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Volume  Two 

EUROPE:  TORCH  TO  POINTBLANK 
AUGUST  1942  TO  DECEMBER  1943 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES 
In  World  War  II 

PREPARED  UNDER  THE  EDITORSHIP  OF 

WESLEY    FRANK  CRAVEN 

Princeton  University 

JAMES    LEA  GATE 

University  of  Chicago 


New  Imprint  by  the 
Office' of  Air  Force  History 
Washington,  D.C.,  1983 


For  sale  by  the  Superintendent  of  Documents.  U.S.  Government  Prlnjtlng  Office 
Washln|?ton»  D.C.  20^02  ' 


The  University  of  Chicago  Press,  Chicago  37 

The  University  of  Toronto  Press,  Toronto  5,  Canada 

Copyright  1949  by  The  University  of  Chicago.  All 
rights  reserved.  Published  1949.  Second  Impression 
1956.  Composed  and  printed  by  The  University  of 
Chicago  Press,  Chicago,  Illinois,  U.S.A. 

Copyright  registration  renewed  1976 

This  work,  first  published  by  the  University  of  Chicago  Press, 
is  reprinted  in  its  entirety  by  the  Office  of  Air  Force  History. 
With  the  exception  of  editing,  the  work  is  the  product  of  the 
United  States  government. 

Library  of  Congress  Cataloging  in  Publication  Data 
Main  entry  under  title : 

The  Army  Air  Forces  in  World  War  II. 

Vol.  1  originally  prepared  by  the  Office  of  Air  Force 
History;  v.  2,  by  the  Air  Historical  Group;  and  v.  3-7, 
by  the  USAF  Historical  Division. 

Reprint.  Originally  published :  Chicago :  University 
of  Chicago  Press,  1948-1958. 

Includes  bibliographical  references  and  indexes. 

Contents:  v.  1.  Plans  and  early  operations,  January 
1939  to  August  1942 — v.  2.  Europe,  torch  to  point- 
blank,  August  1942  to  December  1943— [etc.]— v.  7. 
Services  around  the  world. 

1.  World  War,  j  939-1 945^Aerial  operations, 
American.  2.  United  States.  Army  Air  Forces — 
History— World  War,  1939-1945.  I.  Craven,  Wesley 
Frank,  1905-  .  II,  Cate,  James  Lea,  1899- 
III.  United  States.  Air  Force.  Office  of  Air  Force 
History.  IV.  United  States.  Air  Force,  Air  Historical 
Group.  V.  United  States.  USAF  Historical  Division. 
D790.A89  1983  940.54'4973  83-17288 
ISBNO-912799-03-X  (v.  1) 


ii 


FOREWORD 

to  the  New 
Imprint 


IN  March  1942,  President  Franklin  D,  Roosevelt  wrote  to  the 
Director  of  the  Bureau  of  the  Budget  ordering  each  war 
agency  to  prepare  "an  accurate  and  objective  account"  of 
that  agency's  war  experience.  Soon  after,  the  Army  Air  Forces 
began  hiring  professional  historians  so  that  its  history  could,  in  the 
words  of  Brigadier  General  Laurence  Kuter,  "be  recorded  while 
it  is  hot  and  that  personnel  be  selected  and  an  agency  set  up  for 
a  clear  historian's  job  without  axe  to  grind  or  defense  to  prepare." 
An  Historical  Division  was  established  in  Headquarters  Army 
Air  Forces  under  Air  Intelligence,  in  September  1942,  and  the 
modern  Air  Force  historical  program  began. 

With  the  end  of  the  war,  Headquarters  approved  a  plan  for 
writing  and  publishing  a  seven- volume  history.  In  December  1945, 
Lieutenant  General  Ira  C.  Eaker,  Deputy  Commander  of  Army 
Air  Forces,  asked  the  Chancellor  of  the  University  of  Chicago  to 
"assume  the  responsibility  for  the  publication"  of  the  history, 
stressing  that  it  must  "meet  the  highest  academic  standards." 
Lieutenant  Colonel  Wesley  Frank  Craven  of  New  York  University 
and  Major  James  Lea  Gate  of  the  University  of  Chicago,  both  of 
whom  had  been  assigned  to  the  historical  program,  were  selected 
to  be  editors  of  the  volumes.  Between  1948  and  1958  seven  were 
published.  With  publication  of  the  last,  the  editors  wrote  that 
the  Air  Force  had  "fulfilled  in  letter  and  spirit"  the  promise  of 
access  to  documents  and  complete  freedom  of  historical  interpre- 
tation. Like  all  history,  The  Army  Air  Forces  in  World  War  II 
reflects  the  era  when  it  was  conceived,  researched,  and  written. 
The  strategic  bombing  campaigns  received  the  primary  emphasis, 
not  only  because  of  a  widely-shared  belief  in  bombardment's  con- 


tribution  to  victory,  but  also  because  of  its  importance  in  establish- 
ing the  United  States  Air  Force  as  a  military  service  independent 
of  the  Army.  The  huge  investment  of  men  and  machines  and  the 
effectiveness  of  the  combined  Anglo-American  bomber  offensive 
against  Germany  had  not  been  subjected  to  the  critical  scrutiny 
they  have  since  received.  Nor,  given  the  personalities  involved  and 
the  immediacy  of  the  events,  did  the  authors  question  some  of  the 
command  arrangements.  In  the  tactical  area,  to  give  another 
example,  the  authors  did  not  doubt  the  effect  of  aerial  interdiction 
on  both  the  German  withdrawal  from  Sicily  and  the  allied  land- 
ings at  Anzio. 

Editors  Craven  and  Gate  insisted  that  the  volumes  present  the 
war  through  the  eyes  of  the  major  commanders,  and  be  based  on 
information  available  to  them  as  important  decisions  were  made. 
At  the  time,  secrecy  still  shrouded  the  Allied  code-breaking  effort. 
While  the  link  between  decoded  message  traffic  and  combat  action 
occasionally  emerges  from  these  pages,  the  authors  lacked  the 
knowledge  to  portray  adequately  the  intelligence  aspects  of  many 
operations,  such  as  the  interdiction  in  1943  of  Axis  supply  lines 
to  Tunisia  and  the  systematic  bombardment,  beginning  in  1944, 
of  the  German  oil  industry. 

All  historical  works  a  generation  old  suffer  such  limitations. 
New  information  and  altered  perspective  inevitably  change  the 
emphasis  of  an  historical  account.  Some  accounts  in  these  volumes 
have  been  superseded  by  subsequent  research  and  other  portions 
will  be  superseded  in  the  future.  However,  these  books  met  the 
highest  of  contemporary  professional  standards  of  quality  and 
comprehensiveness.  They  contain  information  and  experience 
that  are  of  great  value  to  the  Air  Force  today  and  to  the  public. 
Together  they  are  the  only  comprehensive  discussion  of  Army  Air 
Forces  activity  in  the  largest  air  war  this  nation  has  ever  waged. 
Until  we  summon  the  resources  to  take  a  fresh,  comprehensive 
look  at  the  Army  Air  Forces'  expferience  in  World  War  II,  these 
seven  volumes  will  continue  to  serve  us  as  well  for  the  next  quarter 
century  as  they  have  for  the  last. 

RICHARD  H.  KOHN 
Chief,  Office  of  Air  Force  History 


iv 


FOREWORD 
*********** 


THIS  volume  is  the  second  of  seven  planned  for  The  Army  Air 
Forces  in  World  War  IL  Elsewhere*  the  editors  have  taxed  the 
patience  of  the  reader  by  describing  in  some  detail  the  under- 
lying concepts  and  the  general  design  of  this  AAF  history;  here  they 
have  thought  it  sufficient  to  set  the  present  volume  into  the  context  of 
the  whole  work.  As  the  subtitle  {Europe:  TORCH  to  POINT- 
BLANK  [August  1942  to  December  1943])  suggests,  Volume  II  deals 
with  the  American  air  effort  against  Germany  and  Italy,  a  story  which 
will  be  completed  in  Volume  III.  The  chronological  limits  of  the 
present  volume,  indicated  by  the  operational  code  names  and  in  the 
more  familiar  reckoning  of  the  Christian  calendar,  were  arbitrarily 
chosen.  But  they  are  not  without  their  own  logic. 

In  Volume  I,  the  authors  showed  that  plans  and  preparations  made 
by  the  U.S.  armed  forces  before  Pearl  Harbor  for  the  war  which  then 
seemed  imminent  had  been  oriented  toward  Europe;  defensive  strategy 
in  the  Pacific,  offensive  strategy  against  Germany,  had  seemed  to  offer 
greatest  hope  for  eventual  victory  in  a  global  war  against  Axis  powers 
formally  linked  in  the  Tripartite  Pact  of  27  September  1940.  The  pro- 
posed mission  of  AAF  heavy  bombers  against  the  two  major  enemies 
was  suggestive  of  the  general  pattern  of  thought:  in  the  Pacific  a  few 
groups  of  B- 1 7's  were  to  be  used  in  an  effort  to  impede  Japanese  expan- 
sion toward  the  south;  in  Europe  many  groups  were  to  swell  current 
RAF  efforts  to  crush  German  war  power  by  strategic  bombing  in  what 
was  planned  as  the  initial  offensive  effort  of  the  U.S.  forces. 

These  plans  had  been  sharply  warped  by  the  astounding  string  of 
Japanese  victories  which  began  at  Pearl  Harbor.  Anglo-American 
strategists  had  stood  firm  on  their  over-all  concept  of  the  war,  but 
immediate  needs  in  the  Pacific  had  focused  Allied  attention  on  that 

*  Vol.  I,  pp.  vii-xxii. 

V 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


area.  For  several  months  the  Pacific  had  enjoyed  a  higher  priority  in 
the  intertheater  competition  for  the  limited  resources  available  than  had 
previously  been  contemplated.  By  summer  of  1942  this  diversion  of 
men  and  materiel— especially  heavy  in  naval  and  air  categories— had 
begun  to  bring  results.  The  Japanese  had  been  abruptly  checked;  their 
defeat  at  Midway  was  a  turning  point  in  the  war,  a  fact  apparently 
recognized  at  the  time  by  some  of  their  leaders.  In  early  August  the 
invasion  of  Guadalcanal  by  American  forces  had  opened  a  period  of 
local  and  limited  offensives  designed  to  provide  bases  from  which  more 
substantial  efforts  could  be  launched  as  forces  became  available. 

The  unexpectedly  heavy  demand  for  AAF  resources  in  the  Pacific 
had  been  complicated  by  threats  to  the  Middle  East.  The  British 
especially  were  alarmed  lest  German  and  Japanese  advances  allow  the 
Axis  to  join  forces  somewhere  east  of  the  Red  Sea  and  thus  disrupt 
communications  vital  to  the  Empire,  and  had  pressed  the  Americans  to 
reinforce  the  RAF  in  Egypt  with  AAF  units. 

Under  these  conditions  it  had  been  impossible  to  put  into  effect  ear- 
lier plans  for  the  air  offensive  against  Festung  Europa;  U.S.  operations 
against  Germany  were  limited  to  desperate  efforts  to  check  the  U-boat 
campaign.  The  Combined  Chiefs  of  Staff  had  committed  Allied  forces 
to  an  invasion  of  the  continent  from  England— in  September  1942  or 
spring  1943— however,  and  the  AAF  had  begun  the  build-up  of  forces 
in  the  United  Kingdom,  while  extending  such  aid  as  they  might  to  the 
hard  pressed  British  in  Egypt.  Plans  for  the  offensive  in  western 
Europe  had  remained  fluid  in  the  face  of  Axis  successes  on  the  Russian 
front  and  in  North  Africa  until  the  project  was  indefinitely  postponed 
(In  summer  1942)  in  favor  of  a  grand  invasion  of  Northwest  Africa. 
It  was  thus  against  a  background  of  strategic  uncertainty  that  the  AAF 
flew  its  first  bombardment  missions  into  Europe— against  Ploesti  from 
Egypt  on  1 2  June,  against  Rouen  from  England  on  17  August.  And  so 
in  Europe,  as  in  the  Pacific,  the  summer  of  1942  marked  a  new  phase  in 
the  war:  with  those  two  missions  began  the  AAF's  offensive  war  against 
Germany,  and  with  them  begins  this  volume. 

The  organization  of  the  volume  reflects  in  its  first  four  sections  the 
geographical  separation  between  the  European  and  Mediterranean 
theaters  symbolized  by  those  initial  missions.  Sections  I  and  III  deal  with 
the  war  in  the  Mediterranean,  with  the  first  coming  to  a  natural  con- 
clusion in  May  1943  as  the  Allies  rounded  up  the  last  PW's  in  Cap  Bon 
and  stood  poised  for  their  northward  spring  toward  Sicily.  Section  III 

vi 


FOREWORD 


ends  less  decisively  with  the  Allies  temporarily  stalled  in  their  drive  up 
the  Italian  peninsula. 

Sections  II  and  IV  are  concerned  with  the  AAF*s  campaign  of  stra- 
tegic bombardment  against  occupied  Europe  and  Germany,  the  break 
coming,  at  a  time  conveniently  near  the  Axis  surrender  in  Tunisia,  with 
the  adoption  of  the  Combined  Bomber  Offensive  plan.  During  the 
earlier  of  those  periods  AAF  operations  from  England  were  tentative 
in  nature  as  the  heavy  bomber  formations  felt  out  German  defenses  and 
were  attenuated  in  weight  as  the  Mediterranean  siphoned  off  much  of 
the  air  strength  previously  allocated  to  the  Eighth  Air  Force  in  the 
United  Kingdom.  Indeed,  the  fundamental  tactical  assumptions  of  the 
Eighth  were  brusquely  challenged  at  the  Casablanca  conference  (Jan- 
uary 1943),  and  it  was  months  after  that  crisis  had  been  weathered  be- 
fore the  promised  build-up  of  forces  had  begun  which  was  to  make  the 
CBO  possible.  The  story  of  that  build-up  and  of  an  ever  accelerating  air 
attack  on  Germany  itself  comes  in  Section  IV  which,  like  Section  III, 
closes  with  the  anticlimax  of  a  December  lull  in  air  activities.  By  that 
time  the  imbalance  of  AAF  deployments  which  had  previously  favored 
the  Mediterranean  had  been  wiped  out,  then  reversed,  and  in  the 
United  Kingdom  the  Eighth  Air  Force  was  impatiently  awaiting  a 
favorable  turn  in  the  weather  before  launching  its  most  telling  blows. 
Friendly  critics  seem  to  have  sensed  something  of  the  pulp  magazine 
serial  technique  in  the  suspense  in  which  the  reader  was  left  at  the  end 
of  Volume  I,  and  the  editors  must  offer  apology  for  again  breaking  off 
at  so  crucial  a  moment;  but  they  are  not  above  hoping  that  the  reader 
may  share  vicariously  something  of  the  Eighth's  impatience. 

The  volume  follows  then,  with  some  hazard  to  its  unity,  the  parallel 
stories  of  two  campaigns  widely  separated  in  space  but  intimately  con- 
nected in  highest  strategy  and  in  their  competing  demands  for  re- 
sources. By  the  end  of  1943  the  distance  between  the  active  air  fronts 
had  been  materially  lessened  and  the  essential  unity  of  the  two 
theaters— long  a  favorite  maxim  with  AAF  leaders— had  become  more 
obvious.  The  authors  have  attempted  throughout  to  emphasize  the  in- 
terdependence of  the  two  theaters,  and  in  Section  V  they  have  brought 
together  in  a  single  chapter  significant  organizational  changes  in  the 
MTO  and  ETO  which  presaged  the  grand  invasions  of  1944  and  which 
coordinated  more  closely  the  efforts  of  heavy  bombers  based  in  East 
Anglia  and  in  eastern  Italy. 

The  threat  to  unity  inherent  in  the  dual  organization  of  the  volume  is 

vii 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORGES    IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

accentuated  by  a  sharp  contrast  in  the  nature  of  air  operations  in  the 
two  areas.  In  their  campaigns  in  North  Africa,  Sicily,  and  Italy  the 
Allies  were  possessed  of  a  Strategic  Air  Force  built  around  AAF  heavy 
bombers.  But  their  use  of  the  term  "strategic,"  and  indeed  of  the 
bombers,  bore  little  resemblance  to  current  practice  in  the  north.  The 
Northwest  African  Strategic  Air  Force,  like  the  Tactical  Air  Force, 
was  used  almost  exclusively  in  support  of  (or  "in  cooperation  with"— 
significantly  enough,  the  AAF's  ban  on  the  former  expression  and 
approval  of  the  latter  grew  out  of  experiences  in  the  Mediterranean) 
ground  and  naval  forces.  That  support  (or  cooperation)  might  be  very 
close  indeed  as  a  squadron  of  fighters  hovered  protectingly  over  an 
armored  column  or  as  light  bombers  struck  at  a  bomb  line  dangerously 
near  an  advancing  infantry  battalion.  Or  support  (cooperation)  might 
entail  far-reaching  strikes  by  medium  and  heavy  bombers  at  shipping 
in  the  Mediterranean  or  at  military  installations  in  Sicily,  Sardinia,  or 
Italy.  But  in  either  case  the  function  of  air  power  was  to  aid  in  the 
defeat  of  an  enemy's  armed  forces  and  in  the  occupation  of  his  soil,  and 
hence  the  story  of  the  AAF  is  tied  closely  to  the  story  of  ground— and 
naval— operations.  The  few  cases  in  which  the  strategic  force  was 
utilized  in  operations  of  the  sort  typical  with  the  Eighth  Air  Force 
merely  emphasize,  by  their  rarity,  the  truth  of  this  generalization.  The 
happy  circumstance  that  between  El  Alamein  and  Salerno  army  air 
and  ground  forces  were  finally  welded  into  an  effective  team  is  in  itself 
a  clinching  argument  against  attempting  to  divorce  the  narratives  of  air 
and  of  ground  warfare.  Similarly,  it  would  be  difficult  (and  often  im- 
possible) to  distinguish  wholly  between  the  activities  of  the  AAF  and 
the  RAF  in  those  instances  in  which  their  units  were  amalgamated  into 
a  single  striking  force. 

The  story  of  the  AAF  in  the  Mediterranean  thus  takes  on  a  rhythmic 
pattern  imposed  by  the  successive  phases  of  the  combined  campaigns  in 
the  desert,  in  Northwest  Africa,  in  Sicily,  and  in  Italy.  In  each  case 
there  is  a  certain  sense  of  movement,  of  definite  accomplishment 
marked  by  the  enemy's  retreat  or  surrender  and  by  the  gaining  of  a  land 
mass.  Each  phase  has  its  beginning,  middle,  and  end;  and  though  the 
separate  phases  have  in  the  air  no  such  distinct  pauses  as  come  on  the 
ground,  the  air  historian  still  may  follow  here  a  narrative  form  which  is 
as  old  as  Thucydides. 

In  the  ETO,  during  the  period  covered  in  this  volume,  AAF  units 
were  engaged  exclusively  in  strategic  bombardment  as  that  term  was 
viii 


FOREWORD 


convenrionally  defined  in  American  doctrine.  Their  aim  was  not  to 
aid  immediately  a  ground  army;  there  were  no  Allied  armies  on  western 
European  soil,  and  the  concept  of  the  bomber  offensive  as  a  sort  of 
second  front  to  relieve  pressure  on  the  Red  Army  was  an  argument 
after  the  fact  rather  than  an  initiating  motive.  The  true  mission  of  the 
Eighth  Air  Force  was  to  weaken  Germany  by  hitting  directly  at  its  war 
potential—industrial,  military,  and  moral— although  this  required  the 
previous  destruction  of  German  air  power.  The  nature  of  the  bom- 
bardment campaign  imposes  on  the  historian  a  problem  of  presentation 
as  novel  as  was  that  concept  of  war. 

The  heavy  bomber  offensive  was  an  impersonal  sort  of  war  and 
monotonous  in  its  own  peculiar  way.  Day  after  day,  as  weather  and 
equipment  permitted,  B-i  7's  and  B-24*s  went  out,  dropped  their  deadly 
load,  and  turned  homeward.  The  immediate  results  of  their  strikes  could 
be  photographed  and  assessed  by  intelligence  officers  in  categories 
reminiscent  of  high  school  **grades"— bombing  was  excellent,  good, 
fair,  or  poor.  But  rarely  was  a  single  mission  or  series  of  missions  deci- 
sive; whatever  earlier  theory  had  taught  of  sudden  paralysis  of  a  nation 
by  strategic  bombardment,  in  actual  practice  the  forces  available  were 
in  1942-43  inadequate  for  such  Douhet-like  tactics.  The  effects  of  the 
bombing  were  gradual,  cumulative,  and  during  the  course  of  the  cam- 
paign rarely  measurable  with  any  degree  of  assurance.  Thus  there  was 
little  visible  progress,  such  as  Allied  troops  could  sense  as  they  pushed 
Rommel's  forces  back  from  El  Alamein  toward  Cap  Bon,  to  encourage 
the  Eighth  Air  Force.  Bomber  crews  went  back  time  and  again  to  hit 
targets  which  they  had  seemingly  demolished  before.  Only  near  the 
end  of  the  war  when  the  bottom  dropped  out  of  the  German  defense 
did  the  full  results  of  the  Combined  Bomber  Offensive  become  appar- 
ent; before  that  the  "phases"  of  the  long-drawn-out  campaign  seldom 
achieved  the  sharp  focus  they  had  shown  in  the  early  plans.  Drama 
hovered  close  to  each  plane  which  sortied  (as  the  American  public  was 
never  allowed  to  forget),  but  as  drama  the  big  show  itself  was  in 
1942-43  flat,  repetitive,  without  climax.  The  bomber  crew  found  its 
sense  of  accomplishment  in  the  twenty-fifth  mission,  which,  in  theory, 
would  bring  rotation  and  relief,  not  in  an  island  won,  an  enemy  army's 
surrender. 

Such  being  the  nature  of  the  war,  it  would  not  be  profitable  to 
chronicle  each  of  the  171  missions  staged  by  the  Eighth  Air  Force  in 
the  period  here  under  consideration— certainly  not  in  the  detail  made 

ix 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES  IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


possible  by  the  richly  informative  mission  reports  which  constitute  the 
basic  sources  for  the  operational  narrative.*  A  few  missions  stood  out 
because  of  the  size  of  the  force  dispatched  (as  Ludwigshafen,  30  De- 
cember 1943),  or  because  of  ferocious  defense  (as  Schweinfurt,  14 
October) ,  or  because  of  brilliant  bombing  (as  Marienburg,  9  October) . 
For  a  mother  who  lost  a  boy  in  the  Eighth's  1 2 1  st  mission,  that  operation 
was  uniquely  and  tragically  important,  but  for  a  more  detached  reader 
(as  for  many  of  the  participants)  it  was  pretty  much  like  another.  And 
hence  in  his  effort  to  give  meaning  to  the  operational  story  the  historian 
must  often  reduce  to  statistical  summaries  the  details  of  many  an  air 
battle;  figures  on  sorties  and  tons  dropped  and  claims  registered  sup- 
plant blood  and  anguish  and  heroism.  This  method  is  not  without  its 
weakness,  since  the  deliberate  suppression  of  derring-do  from  the  narra- 
tive may  tend  to  obliterate  the  human  element  which  is  basic  to  all 
combat.  But  the  method  has  this  additional  justification,  that  it  seems 
more  appropriate  than  a  dramatic  style  to  the  matter-of-fact  spirit  of 
the  boys  who  flew  the  missions  and  to  the  studied  calculations  of  those 
leaders  who  dispatched  them. 

The  authors  have  adopted  in  general  the  point  of  view  (in  the  sense 
of  perspective  rather  than  of  bias)  of  the  AAF  commanders  and  their 
staffs.  Often  their  estimates  of  the  enemy  situation  were  wrong  and 
their  evaluations  of  damage  inflicted  were  exaggerated;  but  it  was  upon 
such  incomplete  intelligence  that  the  war  was  fought,  and  the  frequent 
critiques  and  corrections  imposed  upon  the  narrative  by  the  authors 
are  essentially  parenthetical  This  point  of  view  explains  in  some  degree 
the  manner  in  which  enemy  sources  have  been  used  in  this  volume. 

The  fortunes  of  war  have  put  at  the  disposal  of  Allied  historians  a 
vast  fund  of  official  records  of  the  European  Axis  powers.  According 
to  agreements  made  by  the  Combined  Chiefs  of  Staff,  the  United 
States  kept  the  ground  force  files.  Great  Britain  those  dealing  with  the 
enemy  air  forces.  After  the  collapse  of  Italy  the  Germans  gutted  the 
archives  of  the  Italian  Air  Force  so  thoroughly  that  part  of  the  story  in 
the  Mediterranean  can  never  be  fully  documented.  But  in  the  swift 
debacle  of  May  1945  the  Luftwaffe  records  fell  almost  intact  into 
Allied  hands.  Since  then  the  historical  section  of  the  British  Air  Minis- 
try has  been  engaged  in  processing  those  records  for  more  convenient 
use,  but  because  they  have  proceeded  in  chronological  sequence  the 

*  A  list  of  the  missions,  with  a  brief  summary  of  the  most  important  data,  is  provided 
below  on  pp.  841-52  for  ready  reference. 

X 


FOREWORD 


readily  available  materials  deal  as  yet  with  the  period  before  Pearl 
Harbor.  Nevertheless  the  Air  Ministry  and  the  RAF  have  done  all 
within  their  power  to  make  available  to  the  U.S.  Air  Historical  Group 
Luftwaffe  documents  of  the  later  period.  Two  of  the  present  authors, 
Mr.  Simpson  and  Mr.  Goldberg,  went  to  London  to  pursue  investiga- 
tions for  themselves  and  for  the  other  historians  concerned.  For  the  rest 
the  authors  have  called  on  the  Air  Ministry  for  copies  of  needed  docu- 
ments and  for  spot  research  on  specific  problems.  From  their  own  expe- 
riences in  the  Air  Historical  Group  both  authors  and  editors  of  this 
volume  realize  how  such  requests  intrude  upon  current  duties,  and  they 
render  thanks  here,  as  they  have  done  before,  to  Mr.  J.  C.  Nerney  and 
his  staff  for  material  help  graciously  given. 

The  authors  have  found  most  valuable  those  German  reports  which 
deal  with  enemy  policy  or  which  consolidate  detailed  information  from 
the  lower  echelons.  Practical  considerations  of  time,  to  be  sure,  have 
inclined  them  to  lean  most  heavily  upon  Allied  sources  and  the  general- 
ized Axis  reports,  to  the  exclusion  of  diaries  or  journals  of  the  lesser 
units  of  the  Luftwaffe,  for  the  operational  story;  it  would  require  years 
of  research  for  the  authors  to  sift  the  German  records  as  thoroughly 
as  they  have  our  own.  But  the  deciding  argument  against  attempting  to 
follow  each  day's  operations  in  the  detailed  enemy  sources  has  been 
that  the  nature  of  the  air  war  makes  that  a  process  of  rapidly  diminish- 
ing returns. 

Even  by  infinite  pains  it  would  be  impracticable  to  compile  a  day- 
by-day  account  of  air  operations  by  a  comparative  analysis  of  U.S. 
and  enemy  reports,  as  one  might  do  for  ground  armies  locked  in  an 
extended  battle.  The  air  war  was  continuous  but  in  a  real  sense  transient. 
On  the  ground,  corps  faced  corps,  division  faced  division  for  days, 
sometimes  for  weeks.  In  the  air  on  successive  days  the  aircraft  engaged 
were  drawn  from  different  units;  in  the  AAF's  bomber  offensive  the 
planes  were  formed  into  a  one-day  task  force  which  would  never 
again  be  duplicated,  and  on  the  defensive  each  day's  effort  was  supplied 
by  such  German  fighters  as  were  available.  It  was  especially  true  in 
the  ETO  that  the  air  war  was  between  rival  air  forces,  not  between 
mutually  opposed  groups  or  squadrons,  and  this  fact  tends  to  depreciate 
the  immediate  value  of  the  detailed  unit  record. 

As  for  the  details  of  the  actual  air  battle,  the  information,  whether 
from  American  or  German  sources,  is  rarely  as  exact  as  the  historian 
could  wish.  That  fault,  too,  stems  from  the  very  nature  of  aerial  combat. 

xi 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES  IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


A  nineteen-year-old  boy  takes  off  in  a  "hot"  plane,  alone  or  with  a 
crew,  in  accordance  with  a  plan  to  bomb  or  strafe  a  specified  target  at  a 
desired  time;  he  must  fly  from  his  base,  often  at  great  distance  from  the 
target,  through  weather  which  frequently  makes  precise  navigation 
difficult  and  through  opposition  from  fighters  whose  passes  are  incred- 
ibly swift;  he  arrives  over  the  target  at  as  nearly  the  set  minute  as  pos- 
sible and  performs  his  deadly  task  under  circumstances  which  rarely 
permit  him  to  take  time  out  for  the  sort  of  entry  so  familiar  in  the  ship's 
log.  Even  without  the  emotional  strain  of  the  battle,  the  boy  would 
find  it  impossible  on  his  return  to  give  to  his  interrogating  officer  an 
accurate  and  detailed  report  of  his  own  experiences,  and  the  story  of  a 
large  mission  must  be  compounded  of  hundreds  of  such  imperfect  indi- 
vidual reports.  So  it  is  that  the  historian  though  literally  swamped  by 
the  mass  of  his  sources  may  raise  for  any  mission  questions  as  difficult  to 
solve  as  if  they  dealt  with  the  Battle  of  Hastings  or  Custer's  Last  Stand. 

A  case  in  point  is  the  simple  problem  of  checking  AAF  claims  of 
losses  inflicted  on  the  enemy  air  forces.  Eighth  Air  Force  leaders,  recog- 
nizing by  autumn  1942  that  accepted  claims  of  German  fighters  de- 
stroyed or  damaged  by  heavy  bomber  crews  were  too  optimistic,  made 
repeated  efi^orts  to  scale  down  previous  statistics  and  to  correct  pro- 
cedures for  reporting.  As  a  check  against  the  validity  of  the  adjusted 
figures,  the  records  of  the  General  Quartermaster's  Department  of  the 
German  Air  Ministry  have  been  consulted  for  the  present  volume. 
These  are  based  upon  requisitions  for  replacement  of  planes  lost  or 
damaged,  a  type  of  information  far  more  reliable  by  its  very  nature 
than  battle  claims,  as  can  be  shown  by  comparable  AAF  reports.  It  is 
true  that  these  records  can  provide  only  an  approximate  figure  for  com- 
parison with  claims  entered  by  Eighth  Air  Force  crews.  The  form  of 
the  German  documents  in  question  is  such  that  it  shows  for  a  given 
day  the  total  number  of  GAF  fighters  lost  to  "enemy  action"  and  of 
those  lost  for  causes  not  attributed  to  "enemy  action."  It  is  possible  to 
determine  total  losses  in  western  Germany  but  not  always  to  distin- 
guish sharply  between  losses  which  should  be  credited  to  the  AAF  and 
to  the  RAF.  But  the  German  records  seem  to  constitute  a  reliable 
outside  maximum  for  AAF  aerial  victories,  and,  utilized  for  that  pur- 
pose, they  have  proved  invaluable. 

Unfortunately  those  records  became  available  only  after  the  present 
study  was  nearing  completion.  Considerations  of  time  and  the  present 
state  of  the  records  have  forced  upon  the  editors  acceptance  for  the 
purposes  of  this  volume  of  an  imperfect  spot  check  on  a  number  of  key 

xii 


FOREWORD 


air  battles.  The  results  of  this  sampling  have  been  so  startling  that  the 
editors  have  been  torn  between  regret  at  the  tardiness  of  the  discovery 
and  relief  that  it  was  made  before  the  book  went  to  press.  For  the 
sampling  has  indicated  that  Eighth  Air  Force  claims  were  far  more 
exaggerated  than  even  their  severest  critics  had  assumed.  Indeed,  the 
preliminary  results  of  the  investigations  raise  questions  so  fundamental 
to  this  history— and  to  evaluation  procedures  of  the  AAF  itself— as  to 
require  closer  study  of  the  whole  problem  than  can  be  made  at  this 
time.  Rather  than  delay  indefinitely  the  publication  of  the  present 
volume,  the  editors  have  chosen  to  go  to  press  with  a  study  frankly 
written,  as  they  have  suggested  above,  from  the  point  of  view  of  the 
AAF  records  but  with  the  disparity  between  those  and  enemy  records 
noted.  It  is  the  sort  of  decision  which  all  too  often  faces  the  historian 
working  with  contemporary  materials,  when  any  day  may  bring  forth 
fresh  evidence.  The  editors  hope,  however,  that  a  wider  use  of  the  per- 
tinent German  documents  can  be  made  for  the  succeeding  volume  on 
the  air  war  in  Europe  and  that  a  closer  study  of  the  whole  problem  of 
claims  can  be  included  in  the  seventh  and  last  volume  of  this  history. 
At  this  writing  steps  have  been  taken  to  work  out  with  the  British  Air 
Ministry  arrangements  to  make  possible  both  those  objectives. 

Fortunately,  on  the  more  crucial  issue  of  bomb  damage  the  available 
record  is  much  more  complete  and  satisfactory.  The  U.S.  Strategic 
Bombing  Survey  has  gathered  and  made  accessible  a  great  deal  of  infor- 
mation about  the  German  war  economy  under  air  attack.  Especially 
helpful  has  been  the  information  taken  from  the  Speer  ministry  papers. 
While  the  present  authors  may  not  have  agreed  in  every  detail  with  the 
over-all  conclusions  of  the  survey's  report,  they  have  not  felt  it  neces- 
sary to  go  behind  the  compilations  and  specialized  studies  upon  which 
that  report  was  based. 

In  the  matter  of  antishipping  claims  in  the  Mediterranean  the  authors 
have  been  less  fortunate.  There  was  in  that  area  no  JANAC*  to  sit  in 
judgment  on  claims  of  ships  sunk  or  damaged,  and  it  has  been  necessary 
to  check  as  often  as  possible  the  AAF  and  RAF  mission  reports  against 
enemy  records.  This  method  was  not  wholly  satisfactory,  since  the 
enemy  was  not  always  sure  of  the  agent  which  sank  this  or  that  ship. 
But  the  general  pattern  is  clear  enough  to  suggest  a  possible  revision  of 
the  dismal  appraisal  in  Volume  I  of  the  capabilities  of  land-based 
bombers  against  shipping.  Various  explanations  have  suggested  them- 
selves—AAF  rather  than  Navy  operational  control,  better  crews,  better 

•  Joint  Army-Navy  Assessment  Commission. 

xiii 


THE  ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

weather,  shorter  missions,  etc.— but  for  whatever  reason,  the  B-24  and 
B-17,  the  B-25  and  B-26,  were  more  effective  against  ships  in  the  Medi- 
terranean than  they  had  proved  in  the  early  months  of  the  Pacific  war. 

These  preliminary  explanations  having  been  given,  there  remains 
only  the  pleasant  task  of  introducing  those  who  have  made  this  book. 
All  four  authors,  in  their  several  military  grades,  were  connected  dur- 
ing the  war  with  the  AAF  historical  program.  Thomas  J.  Mayock 
carried  the  responsibility  in  the  Historical  Office,  AAF  Headquarters, 
for  covering  air  operations  in  the  North  African  theater.  Arthur  B. 
Ferguson,  a  member  of  the  same  staff,  divided  his  attention  between 
antisubmarine  and  Eighth  Air  Force  operations.  Albert  F.  Simpson 
served  in  Italy  as  historical  officer  of  the  AAF  Service  Command, 
MTO.  Alfred  Goldberg  gained  his  knowledge  of  air  logistics  in  the 
ETO  as  a  historical  officer  first  with  the  VIII  Air  Force  Service  Com- 
mand and  later  with  the  United  States  Strategic  Air  Forces. 

Once  again  the  editors  are  happy  to  record  their  heavy  indebtedness 
to  Col.  Wilfred  J.  Paul  and  Dr.  Albert  F.  Simpson,  military  and  civilian 
chiefs,  respectively,  of  the  Air  Historical  Group.  All  members  of  their 
staff  have  contributed  loyally  to  the  production  of  this  volume  and 
special  acknowledgment  is  due  to:  Mrs.  Wilhelmine  Burch  and 
Mr.  P.  Alan  Bliss  for  invaluable  editorial  service;  Miss  Fanita  Lanier, 
who  did  the  maps  and  the  jacket;  Mrs.  Juanita  S.  Riner  for  her  cheerful 
aid  in  the  preparation  of  the  manuscript;  Miss  Juliette  Abington  for 
help  in  selecting  the  illustrations  and  in  compiling  the  appendix;  and, 
for  a  variety  of  helpful  acts,  to  Lt.  Col.  Garth  C.  Cobb,  Lt.  Col.  Arthur 
J.  Larsen,  Capt.  John  W.  Miller,  Capt.  William  A.  Bennett,  Dr.  Chaun- 
cey  E.  Sanders,  Miss  Marguerite  Kennedy,  and  Mr.  Frank  C.  Myers. 
And  again,  as  with  Volume  I,  editors  and  authors  have  found  at  all  times 
friendly  and  useful  criticism  from  Dr.  Kent  Roberts  Greenfield  and  his 
military  chief,  Maj.  Gen,  Harry  J,  Malony,  of  the  Historical  Division, 
Department  of  the  Army.  Professors  Richard  A.  Newhall  of  Williams 
College,  Joseph  R.  Strayer  of  Princeton  University,  and  John  A.  Krout 
of  Columbia  University,  as  members  of  the  Air  Force  Advisory  His- 
torical Committee,  have  offered  welcome  advice. 

Wesley  Frank  Craven 
James  Lea  Cate 

Washington 

29  December  1948 

xiv 


CONTENTS 


I.  THE  NORTH  AFRICAN  CAMPAIGNS 
Thomas  J.  Mayock 
Air  Intelligence  Division 

1.  Crisis  IN  THE  Middle  East   3 

2.  TORCH  AND  THE  Twelfth  Air  Force   41 

3.  The  Landings  AND  THE  Race  FOR  Tunis   67 

4.  The  Winter  Campaign   105 

5.  Defeat  AND  Reorganization   132 

6.  Climax  in  Tunisia   166 

II.  ORIGINS  OF  THE  COMBINED 
BOMBER  OFFENSIVE 

Arthur  B.  Ferguson 
Duke  University 

7.  The  Daylight  Bombing  Experiment   209 

8.  The  War  AGAINST  the  Sub  Pens   242 

9.  The  Casablanca  Directive   274 

10.  Over  Germany   308 

11.  The  CBO  Plan   348 

12.  The  Antisubmarine  Command   377 

III.  SICILY  AND  SOUTHERN  ITALY 

Albert  F.  Simpson 
Air  Historical  Group 

13.  Pantelleria  415 

14.  Conquest  of  Sicily  446 

XV 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


15.  Invasion  OF  Italy  488 

16.  The  Fifteenth  Air  Force  546 

17.  Operations  TO  THE  End  OF  THE  Year  575 

IV.  TOWARD  OVERLORD 

Alfred  Goldberg,  Air  Historical  Group 
Arthur  B.  Ferguson,  Duke  University 

1 8.  Air  Logistics  in  the  ETO  599 

Alfred  Goldberg 

19.  Build-up  631 

Alfred  Goldberg 

20.  POINTBLANK  665 

Arthur  B.  Ferguson 

21.  The  Autumn  Crisis  707 

Arthur  B.  Ferguson 

V.  FINAL  REORGANIZATION 

Alfred  Goldberg,  Air  Historical  Group 
Albert  F.  Simpson,  Air  Historical  Group 

22.  Final  Reorganization  733 

Notes   759 

Appendix   839 

Glossary   855 

Index   865 


xvi 


LIST  OF  MAPS  AND  CHARTS 
*********** 


Beginnings  of  AAF  Operations   Frontispiece 

The  Delta  and  Related  Areas   12 

The  torch  Area   44 

Casablanca  and  Oran  Areas   69 

Eastern  Algeria  and  Tunisia   80 

El  Alamein  to  El  Agheila   93 

Bengasi  to  Gabes   loi 

Southern  Tunisia   133 

Northern  Tunisia   197 

Eighth  Air  Force  Targets,  August  i  942-JuNE  1 943  215 

Bomber  Combat  Formations,  Summer  1943   332 

Principal  Units  of  Northwest  African  Air  Forces,  i  June 

1943   417 

Pantelleria   420 

Principal  NAAF  Targets,  15  JuNE-9  July  1943  436 

Final  Allied  Plan  for  Invasion  of  Sicily   443 

Airborne  Operations,  HUSKY   448 

Principal  NAAF  Targets  in  Sicily  during  HUSKY,  10 

JuLY~i7  August  1943   457 

Advance  of  Seventh  and  Eighth  Armies,  10  July-i  7  August 

1943   461 

Principal  NAAF  Targets  outside  Sicily,  10  July- 17  August 

1943   467 


xvii 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES  IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


Ploesti  Attack,  i  August  1943   480 

Plans  for  post-HUSKY  Invasions   490 

Northwest  African  Air  Forces,  15  August  1943     .    .    .  497 

Southern  Italy,  Principal  Rail  Lines   505 

Southern  Italy,  Principal  Roads  and  Airfields   ....  508 

Invasion  of  Italy   513 

Principal  NAAF  Targets,  i  8  August-8  September  1943  515 

Salerno-Paestum  Area,  12  September  1943   522 

Airborne  Operations,  AVALANCHE,  September  1943  532 

Advance  of  Allied  Armies  in  Italy,  3  SEP'rEMBER-6  October 

1943   540 

Advance  of  Fifth  Army,  7  OcTOBER-15  November  1943  549 

Central  Italy,  Principal  Roads  and  Airfields  553 

Central  Italy,  Principal  Rail  Lines   556 

Twelfth  and  Fifteenth  Air  Forces,  i  November  1943   ,  569 

Eighth  Air  Force  Installations,  June  1944   647 

USSTAF  Air  Service  Installations,  June  1944    ....  650 

Eighth  Air  Force  Targets,  June-December  1943  667 

Mission  TO  ScHWEiNFURT,  14  October  1943   7Q0 

VIII  Air  Force  Service  Command,  December  1943  745 

Mediterranean  Allied  Air  Forces,  9  January  1944   .  751 

U.S.  Strategic  Air  Forces  in  Europe,  May  1944   .  753 

Twelfth  and  Fifteenth  Air  Forces,  i  5  December  1943  839 

Units  of  Mediterranean  Allied  Air  Forces,  i  January  1944  840 

Eighth  Air  Force  Heavy  Bomber  Missions,  17  August  1942— 

31  December  1943  841-52 


xviii 


LIST  OF  ILLUSTRATIONS 
*********** 


FACING 


Desert  Air  War  94 

Housekeeping 
Squadron  Headquarters 

Sandstorm  94 

Airfield  Construction  in  Africa  120 

Breaking  Ground 
Three  Days  Later 

Mediums  IN  Africa   120 

B-25  Mitchells 
B-26  Marauders 

The  Rugged  B-  i  7  120 

This  One  Got  Back 

Part  of  the  Crew  Bailed  Out 

USS  Ranger  Delivers  P-40's  to  AAF  in  Africa    ...  120 

Heavy  Bombers  Hit  Ammo  Ship,  Palermo,  22  March  1943  .  184 

The  End  of  the  Trieste ,  i o  April  i  943  1 84 


24  B-17's  at  18,750  Feet  Bomb  Cruiser  Anchored  in  Anti- 
sub  Net 
Bombs  Hit  Cruiser 
Cruiser  Sinks 

Next  Day  Photo  Reconnaissance  Shows  Cruiser  Sunk,  Giv- 
ing Off  Air  Bubbles  and  Oil  Slicks 

Heavy  Bombers  Hit  Ammo  Ship  off  Bizerte,  6  April  1943  .  184 

xix 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


FACING 

Sequel  TO  FL/iX;  B- 25 's  Attack  Axis  Transports  192 

B-17  Antishipping  Strike  off  Bizerte   192 

Two  Ships  Sighted 
One  Ship  Sunk 

German  Sub  Pen,  Lorient   248 

Eighth  Air  Force  Attack  on  Lorient,  17  May  1943  .     .  248 

Battle  Casualties,  Eighth  Air  Force   248 

Interrogation,  381ST  Group,  Summer  1943   248 

B-17  Combat  Formation   344 

B-17  Combat  Formation   344 

B-17  Combat  Formation   344 

B-17  Contrails   344 

Pantelleria   424 

Air  Attack  on  the  Island 
Wreckage  on  Marghana  Airfield 

Airborne  Operations  in  HUSKY   424 

Sicily  Bound 

Wrecked  CG-4A  Glider 

First  AAF  Attack  on  Rome,  i 9  July  i  943   456 

B-17  Interior   45  <5 

Tactical  Operations   462 

Attacking  Motor  Transport 
Bridge-busting 

POSTHOLING   ^62 

Ploesti,  I  August  1943:  The  Astra  Romana  Refinery   .    .  482 

Mud  in  Sunny  Italy   482 

Fog  and  Mud  in  England   616 

XX 


LIST  OF  ILLUSTRATIONS 

FACING 


Eighth  Air  Force  Bomb  Dumps   6i6 

B-17  Milk  Run   616 

Eighth  Air  Force  IN  Rural  England   616 

Hangar  Queen   648 

P-47  Drive-away  from  an  English  Port   648 

Maintenance  648 

Second  Echelon 
Third  Echelon 
Fourth  Echelon 

Marienburg  Mission,  9  October  1943  696 

Strike  Photo 
Recon  Photo 


xxi 


United  States  Air  Force 
Historical  Advisory  Committee 

(As  of  May  1,  1983) 


Lt.  Gen.  Charles  G.  Cleveland, 
USAF 

Commander,  Air  University,  ATC 

Mr.  DeWitt  S.  Copp 

The  National  Volunteer  Agency 

Dr.  Warren  W.  Hassler,  Jr. 
Pennsylvania  State  University 

Dr.  Edward  L.  Homze 
University  of  Nebraska 

Dr.  Alfred  F.  Hurley 

Brig.  Gen.,  USAF,  Retired 
North  Texas  State  University 


Maj.  Gen.  Robert  E.  Kelley,  USAF 
Superintendent,  USAF  Academy 

Dr.  Joan  Kennedy  Kinnaird 
Trinity  College 

Mr.  David  E.  Place, 

The  General  Counsel,  USAF 

Gen.  Bryce  Poe  II, 
USAF,  Retired 

Dr.  David  A.  Shannon  (Chairman) 
University  of  Virginia 


xxii 


SECTION  I 
*********** 


THE  NORTH  AFRICAN  CAMPAIGNS 


CHAPTER  1 

*********** 


CRISIS  IN  THE 
MIDDLE  EAST 

FOR  all  its  awesome  history  as  a  battleground  between  civiliza- 
tions, the  Middle  East  did  not  strike  American  strategists  as  an 
area  in  which  the  European  war  could  be  expeditiously  won. 
On  the  other  hand,  they  recognized  it  as  an  area  in  which  the  global 
war  could  be  very  speedily  lost.  So,  although  large-scale  U.S.  offen- 
sives, air  or  ground,  did  not  figure  in  the  plans  for  the  Middle  East  (the 
offensive  function  against  the  European  Axis  being  largely  reserved 
for  the  more  convenient  United  Kingdom  base),  aid  for  its  British 
defenders  was  never  stinted.^  In  fact,  it  was  the  large  degree  of  logistical 
support  afforded  the  Royal  Air  Force  in  the  Middle  East  that  finally, 
in  the  spring  of  1942,  brought  the  decision  to  commit  an  American 
air  force  there.  The  difficulties  which  shortly  thereafter  beset  the 
British  Eighth  Army  only  advanced  the  date  for  that  air  force's 
appearance. 

The  story  of  the  logistical  support  begins  properly  before  the  U.S. 
entry  into  the  war,  with  the  passage  of  the  Lend-Lease  Act  in  March 
of  1 94 1.*  When  in  April  the  British  cleared  the  Italians  from  the  last 
of  their  Red  Sea  ports,  the  President  promptly,  on  the  i  ith,  proclaimed 
the  area  open  to  American  shipping.  Already  a  trickle  of  Tomahawks 
(early  model  P-4o*s)  had  begun  to  reach  the  Middle  East,  brought  by 
ship  to  Takoradi  on  the  Gold  Coast  for  erection  and  flown  across 
central  Africa  to  Khartoum  over  a  primitive  air  route  pioneered  by  the 
British  in  the  thirties.  In  March  the  Air  Corps  had  dispatched  a  few 
officers  and  enlisted  men  to  aid  in  the  operation  and  maintenance  of 

•  For  a  discussion  of  policies  shaping  prc-Pearl  Harbor  aid  to  the  British  and  U.S.S.R., 
see  Volume  I  of  this  series,  pages  126-35. 


3 


THE   ARMY   AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

these  planes.  Besides  aiding  the  RAF  in  technical  matters,  these  men 
supplied  Washington  with  firsthand  information  on  the  desert  air 
war.  In  this  endeavor,  their  efforts  were  supplemented  by  manu- 
facturers' representatives  who  reported  on  the  performance  of  the 
various  American  aircraft  already  in  use  by  the  British.^ 

The  enormous  Axis  successes  in  the  Mediterranean  area  during  the 
spring  of  1941  made  it  abundantly  clear  that  the  flow  of  American 
personnel  and  supplies  to  the  Middle  East  would  continue  and  grow. 
Moreover,  the  larger  role  now  assumed  by  air  power  had  swelled  by 
so  much  the  demand  for  American  aircraft.  The  Germans  had  rapidly 
engulfed  Yugoslavia  and  Greece;  and  in  May  the  German  Air  Force 
put  on  an  air  show  over  Crete,  in  the  process  badly  battering  the  British 
fleet.  From  Sicily  the  newly  arrived  GAF  dive  bombers  were  perform- 
ing so  earnestly  against  British  naval  power  that  it  became  an  open 
question  as  to  whether  the  German  Fliegerkorps  or  Adm.  Sir  Andrew 
Browne  Cunningham's  tars  ruled  the  waters.  Since  the  defense  of 
Egypt,  and  of  the  whole  eastern  Mediterranean,  had  been  predicated 
in  the  first  instance  on  sea  power  (a  conception  previously  validated 
by  the  fine  handling  of  the  British  fleet),  the  premises  upon  which  the 
British  had  waged  war  in  the  Mediterranean  area  were  now  subject 
to  modification.^ 

The  RAF's  severe  losses  in  the  Greek  campaign  had  been  partially 
made  up  by  June,  when  the  German  invasion  of  the  U.S.S.R.  took  the 
heat  off  the  Middle  East;  but  the  British  still  viewed  their  aircraft  situa- 
tion with  misgivings.  Rommers  desert  army  kept  the  threat  to  Egypt 
very  much  alive;  and  the  British  feared  that  the  Axis,  operating  over 
its  short  Mediterranean  supply  lines,  might  soon  be  able  to  concen- 
trate forces  for  a  blow  at  Suez.  In  contrast,  the  defenders  labored  under 
the  disadvantage  of  the  long  Cape  haul;  their  one  direct  air  route, 
Gibraltar-Malta-Egypt,  was  not  practicable  for  short-range  fighters, 
and  its  bomber  and  transport  traffic  was  increasingly  threatened  by  the 
active  GAF  in  Sicily.  The  Takoradi-Khartoum  air  route  assumed  new 
importance.* 

In  Washington,  late  in  June  1941,  the  British  began  discussions  with 
the  Air  Corps  and  lend-lease  authorities.  They  proposed  that  their 
central  African  airway  be  hooked  up  with  American  aircraft  factories 
by  a  ferry  route  running  from  Florida  through  the  Antilles  to  the 
hump  of  Brazil  at  Natal,  thence  across  the  narrows  of  the  South 
Atlantic  to  Bathurst  in  Gambia,  to  Freetown  in  Sierra  Leone,  or  to 


4 


CRISIS    IN   THE    MIDDLE  EAST 


Monrovia  in  Liberia.  There  were  difficulties:  the  limited  facilities  of 
the  Takoradi-Khartoum  leg  had  been  responsible  for  a  good  many- 
plane  crashes;  neutral  Brazil's  permission  had  to  be  obtained  for  flights 
across  her  territory;  of  the  available  American  flyers,  few  were  qualified 
to  undertake  transoceanic  operations.  But  some  obstacles  were  rapidly 
surmounted.  With  Brazil's  assent,  Pan-American  Airways,  which  had 
already  undertaken  to  deliver  twenty  transports  to  the  British  for 
service  on  the  trans- African  run,  created  three  subsidiaries  to  carry  on 
a  ferrying  and  air  transport  service.  Funds  came  mostly  from  lend- 
lease.  The  contracts  were  signed  on  1 2  August.  However,  largely  be- 
cause of  the  shortage  of  trained  pilots,  only  a  few  transports  had  been 
delivered  by  October.  Late  in  that  month,  on  the  29th,  the  President 
authorized  the  Air  Corps  Ferrying  Command  to  deliver  aircraft  to  the 
Middle  East;  and  after  Pearl  Harbor  it  was  decided  to  use  Ascension 
Island  as  a  steppingstone  to  bring  Africa  within  the  range  of  the  light 
bombers  badly  needed  by  the  RAF,  Middle  East.*^ 

While  Pan- Am  was  surveying  its  new  responsibilities,  Americans  had 
become  involved  at  the  farther  end  of  the  route,  extending  aid  to  the 
RAF,  which  was  engaged  in  echeloning  to  the  rear  some  of  its  repair 
and  supply  depots  after  its  Delta  installations  had  been  severely  dam- 
aged by  GAF  bombings  in  July  and  August.  Halfway  down  the  Red 
Sea,  Port  Sudan  had  been  selected  for  the  erection  of  deck-loaded 
Bostons  and  Havocs'^  and  crated  P-40's,  thence  to  be  flown  to  dispersed 
storage  units  near  Wadi  Haifa  and  Cairo.  The  British  had  decided  to 
fly  no  more  P-40's  over  the  central  African  route  because  of  the 
frequency  of  crashes.  Early  in  September,  American  technicians  and 
factory  representatives  arrived  to  assist  the  RAF  mechanics  at 
Port  Sudan, 

The  RAF  was,  not  unnaturally,  handicapped  by  its  lack  of  famil- 
iarity with  American  aircraft  and  equipment,  even  entertaining  some 
prejudice  against  certain  planes  on  this  account.  Consequently,  factory 
representatives  endeavored  to  initiate  the  RAF  into  the  mysteries  of 
American  handbooks  while  U.S.  officials  undertook  to  see  that  the  best 
use  be  made  of  lend-lease  materiel.  Brig.  Gen.  Ralph  Royce,  a  member 
of  the  Harriman  mission  which  visited  the  Middle  East  in  June  of  1941, 
and  Maj.  Gen.  George  Brett,  who  surveyed  the  situation  in  the  fall, 
both  advised  that  greater  control  over  U.S.  personnel  and  installations 

•  For  a  fuller  discussion,  see  Vol.  1,  319-28. 

t  Variant  models  of  the  Douglas  DB-7,  the  AAF  A-20. 

5 


THE  ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

would  enhance  their  efficiency.  These  recommendations  were  ob- 
served in  the  establishment  of  the  depot  at  Gura  in  Eritrea.  Gura,  de- 
signed to  overhaul  all  types  of  American  engines  and  planes  currently 
in  use  in  the  Middle  East,  grew  out  of  a  British  request  in  the  summer 
of  1 94 1.  By  a  contract  signed  in  December,  the  Douglas  Aircraft  Com- 
pany undertook  to  operate  the  depot  on  lend-lease  funds.  Gura  utilized 
an  old  Caproni  assembly  plant  and  an  airfield  near  Massaua;  it  was 
expected  to  be  in  operation  by  April  1942.® 

By  mid- 1 94 1,  the  growing  numbers  and  diverse  activities  of  Amer- 
ican military  personnel  in  the  Middle  East,  and  the  certainty  that  more 
personnel  would  be  sent,  called  for  a  new  administrative  agency.  On 
27  September,  in  accordance  with  an  earlier  presidential  directive,  the 
War  Department  created  the  United  States  Military  North  African 
Mission.  Brig.  Gen.  Russell  L,  Maxwell  was  charged,  in  instructions 
issued  on  21  October,  with  establishing  and  operating  supply,  main- 
tenance, and  training  facilities  for  the  British  or  other  friendly  forces 
in  his  area.  Over  the  ensuing  months,  he  would  also  supervise  and 
control  the  activities  of  American  companies  under  contract  to  the 
British.  Brig.  Gen.  Elmer  E.  Adier  was  appointed  chief  of  the  mission's 
important  air  section.  Adler  was  to  have  the  additional  task  of  advising, 
on  technical  aircraft  matters,  the  United  States  Military  Iranian  Mis- 
sion, which,  under  Brig.  Gen.  Raymond  A,  Wheeler,  was  preparing 
to  enter  Iran  to  help  open  a  southern  supply  route  to  the  U.S.S.R.^ 

In  flying  out  the  members  of  the  Maxwell  group,  the  Air  Corps 
Ferrying  Command  took  the  initial  action  for  establishment  of  a  regular 
transport  service  to  Cairo,  Adler  leaving  on  the  first  plane  on  14  No- 
vember.* Maxwell  arrived  via  Pearl  Harbor,  India,  and  Iraq  on  22 
November.  Little  time  passed  before  the  shock  of  Pearl  Harbor,  and 
with  the  subsequent  Italian  and  German  declarations  of  war,  the  mis- 
sion found  itself  aiding  not  a  potential  but  an  actual  ally.  With  this 
new  status  of  affairs,  there  inevitably  rose  the  question  of  deploying 
U.S.  combat  units  in  the  Middle  East.® 

The  Washington  air  planners  had  already  considered  the  area. 
AWPD-i,t  proposed  in  September  1941,  envisioned  Egypt-based 
B-29's  adding  their  weight  to  an  ambitious  bomber  offensive  against 
industrial  Germany.  But  the  choice  of  Egypt  did  not  arise  out  of  any 
strong  conviction  of  its  value  as  a  strategic  area.  The  planners'  inf or- 

•  See  Vol.  1,  326-27. 

tFor  a  full  discussion  of  this  basic  air  war  plan,  see  Vol.  I,  131-32,  145-50. 

6 


CRISIS    IN   THE    MIDDLE  EAST 

mation  suggested  that  the  United  Kingdom  air  base  might  become  over- 
crowded, and  Egypt  was  the  only  location  available  for  the  overflow— 
for  the  balance  of  the  force  calculated  as  necessary  to  weaken  fatally 
the  German  war  potential.  The  plan  had  no  relation  to  the  war  in  the 
Middle  East,  except  that  it  assumed  the  possession  of  the  area  by 
friendly  powers. 

Following  Pearl  Harbor,  when  the  American  and  British  staffs 
met  in  Washington  to  lay  the  basic  strategies  which  were  to  govern 
the  conduct  of  the  war,  they  designated  the  Middle  East  an  area  of 
British  responsibility  and  suggested  that  because  of  its  distance  from 
the  seats  of  enemy  power  the  as  yet  weak  United  Nations'  forces  might 
there  engage  the  Axis  on  comparatively  favorable  terms.  But  the 
ARCADIA  conference  came  up  with  no  specific  recommendation  for 
the  early  deployment  of  U.S.  troops  in  the  Middle  East:  first  call  for 
available  forces  went  to  previous  commitments  in  the  Atlantic  and 
to  the  emergency  born  of  Japanese  successes  in  the  Pacific* 

One  thing  was  evident  enough:  the  Middle  East  had  become  as 
important  to  American  communications  as  it  had  traditionally  been  to 
British  imperial  communications.  The  loss  of  Guam  and  Wake,  in 
December  1941,  had  prevented  the  reinforcement  of  the  Philippines 
via  those  islands.  The  air  route  employing  the  island  ladder  between 
Hawaii  and  Australia  inaugurated  by  three  B-17's  in  January  1942 
was  still  in  the  stage  of  feverish  development.  By  reversing  Columbus* 
principle  it  was  possible,  however,  to  reach  the  Indies  by  flying  east. 
Brett  had  already  flown  from  Boiling  Field,  D.C,  through  the  Middle 
East  to  Basra  at  the  head  of  the  Persian  Gulf.  The  air  route  was  now 
extended  across  Iran  and  India  for  delivery  of  supplies  and  planes 
to  Java  and  Burma. 

A  good  part  of  the  Middle  East's  efforts  in  early  1942  was  absorbed 
in  bolstering  the  defenses  of  the  Far  East,  breached  by  the  February 
disasters  at  Singapore  and  in  Java  and  by  the  menacing  Japanese  move 
into  Burma.  Late  in  February,  Wheeler  was  ordered  to  India  to  develop 
the  port  of  Karachi,  The  U.S.  Tenth  Air  Force  had  been  established 
in  India  by  early  March  under  Maj.  Gen.  Lewis  H.  Brereton,  who  im- 
mediately requested  that  Adler  be  assigned  to  head  his  air  service  com- 
mand, but  Adler  did  not  arrive  in  India  until  26  April.®  With  the  closing 
of  the  lower  portion  of  the  Burma  Road  in  the  first  week  of  March,  an 
air  route  from  Burma  to  China  became  a  necessity,  and  when  it  was  in- 

•  For  a  discussion  of  the  ARCADIA  conference,  see  Vol.  I,  237-45. 

7 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

augurated  in  April  Pan-Am's  trans- African  run  lent  ten 
The  Combined  Chiefs  had  already  recognized  the  de  facto  interdepend- 
ence of  the  China-Burma-India  theater  and  the  Middle  East.^^  If,  so 
far,  the  CBI  had  been  mostly  favored  by  this  association,  it  was  soon 
to  pay  its  debts. 

Advent  of  USAMEAF 

Meanwhile,  the  British  had  been  pressing  for  the  dispatch  of  an 
American  air  force  to  the  Middle  East,  and  a  number  of  tentative  plans 
had  been  drawn  in  Washington.  In  response  to  a  January  request  by 
Sir  Charles  Portal,  British  Chief  of  Air  Staff,  Task  Force  CAIRO  was 
set  up,  on  paper:  two  groups  of  pursuit  for  June  1942  commitment. 
A  little  later  the  AAF  opposed  augmenting  the  proposed  task  force  by 
one  heavy  bombardment  group  on  the  ground  that  any  heavy  groups 
would  have  to  come  out  of  commitments  to  the  United  Kingdom,  But 
by  mid-March— Portal  having  made  another  plea— the  problem  of  air 
reinforcements  for  Egypt  was  being  approached  from  a  different 
angle.  It  was  thought  that  from  the  American  production  allotted  them 
the  British  might  furnish  American  aircraft  types  at  Cairo;  the  AAF 
would  furnish  personnel.  Under  this  plan  the  AAF  hoped  that  two 
medium,  one  light,  and  two  pursuit  groups  could  be  provided  at  an 
indefinite  future  date.^^ 

The  decisive  step  was  taken  in  conversations  which  General  Arnold 
and  Rear  Adm.  John  H.  Towers  opened  on  26  May  with  the  RAF  in 
London,  conversations  which  resulted  in  recommendations  as  to  the 
allocation  of  aircraft  among  the  several  United  Nations.  Middle  East 
allocations  proved  a  thorny  question  in  these  discussions.  The  AAF 
was  faced  with  alternatives,  neither  of  which  it  relished.  Either  it  could 
acquiesce  in  the  Middle  East's  swallowing  up  large  quantities  of  air- 
craft and  stores  to  maintain  an  RAF  which  had  built  up  its  force  to  a 
considerable  extent  with  American  equipment  or  it  could  send  its  own 
combat  units,  replacing  altogether  an  equivalent  RAF  strength  and 
utilizing  aircraft  previously  allotted  to  the  British.  With  the  growing 
output  of  the  AAF's  training  establishment,  the  latter  course  was  finally 
chosen,  in  deference  to  the  principle  that  if  powerful  U.S.  air  forces 
were  to  be  developed  every  appropriate  American  aircraft  should  be 
manned  and  fought  by  a  U.S.  crew.  By  30  May,  nine  groups  had  been 
tentatively  agreed  upon  for  the  Middle  East:  one  heavy  group  complete 
by  I  October  1942;  two  medium  groups  complete  by  i  March  1943; 

8 


CRISIS   IN  THE   MIDDLE  EAST 


six  pursuit  groups,  two  available  in  the  theater  by  September  1942,  two 
by  December  1942,  and  two  by  April  1943.* 

Developments  since  Pearl  Harbor  had  furnished  fresh  evidence  of 
the  importance  of  air  power  in  the  Middle  East.  In  Libya,  where  the 
Axis  armies  were  almost  totally  dependent  on  sea  transportation  for 
their  sustenance,  secure  sea  communications  were  a  primary  requisite 
for  success.  The  ably  led  British  Mediterranean  Fleet  had  almost  cut 
off  Graziani's  supplies  at  one  point  in  1940,  but  of  late  its  surface  opera- 
tions had  been  greatly  circumscribed  by  the  Luftwaffe.  However, 
British  submarine  and  air  forces  working  from  Malta  and  Egypt  had 
been  able  to  redress  the  balance,  so  much  so  that  when  Rommel  began 
his  comeback  from  El  Agheila  in  January  1942  he  started  with  three 
days'  rations  and  subsisted  mainly  on  British  stores  in  his  drive  to  the 
Egyptian  frontier.  Before  supplies  could  be  accumulated  for  another 
effort  in  the  desert,  the  Axis  found  it  necessary  to  neutralize  Malta's 
air  and  naval  bases  and  mounted  a  scale  of  air  attack  on  the  island  which 
cost  dearly  in  Axis  aircraft  but  paid  off  in  cargoes  for  Rommel,  The 
enemy  was  also  meditating  an  amphibious  assault  permanently  to  re- 
move the  island's  threat.  As  Malta  inevitably  lost  some  of  its  effec- 
tivisness,  Egypt-based  planes  and  submarines  were  forced  to  greater 
efforts,^*  Not  only  was  additional  air  strength  badly  needed  by  the 
British  in  the  spring  of  1942  but  because  of  the  long  flights  necessary 
to  interrupt  the  Axis  sea  communications,  heavy  bombers  were  par- 
ticularly prized.  Brett  had  thought  B-24's  especially  suitable  for  the 
theater;  Col.  Bonner  Fellers,  the  U.S.  military  attache  at  Cairo,  be- 
lieved that  the  big  planes  could  control  the  shipping  in  the  Mediter- 
ranean;^^ that  the  British  appreciated  their  value  can  be  seen  from  the 
repeated  attempts  they  made  to  persuade  the  United  States  to  send 
a  heavy  group  to  the  Middle  East. 

As  it  turned  out,  the  debut  of  U.S.  heavy  bombers  in  the  Middle 
East  was  prompted  by  other  circumstances:  a  combination  of  Japanese 
success  in  Burma  and  the  American  desire  to  render  all  possible  aid 
to  the  U.S.S.R.  The  bombers  were  B-24's  of  the  Halverson  Detach- 
ment, a  prize  example  of  a  unit  pulled  hither  and  yon  by  the  alarms 
and  crises  of  early  i942.t  The  unit  was  originally  set  up  under  the 
code  name  HALPRO  and  trained  in  the  greatest  secrecy  for  the  bomb- 
ing of  Tokyo  out  of  Chinese  bases,  with  the  proviso  that  its  employ- 
ment would  depend  on  the  global  strategic  situation  which  would 
•  See  below,  p.14.  t  See  Vol.  I,  341-42,  493. 

9 


THE   ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

obtain  when  the  unit  was  ready  for  commitment.  When  that  time  ar- 
rived, in  mid-May,  the  deteriorating  situation  in  Burma  rendered  un- 
likely the  prospect  that  the  B-24's  could  be  logistically  supported  in 
China.  General  Marshall  then  secured  the  President's  approval  to  divert 
the  aircraft  to  Egypt  for  a  surprise  raid  on  the  Ploesti  oil  refineries,  an 
enterprise  designed  to  put  a  spoke  in  the  wheel  of  the  summer  drive 
the  Germans  were  preparing  against  the  U.S.S.R.  Negotiations  were 
set  in  motion  to  obtain  the  use  of  landing  grounds  in  the  Caucasus 
(the  Soviet  approval  came  too  late  to  be  of  any  use)  and  two  AAF 
officers  were  rushed  to  Cairo  for  liaison  between  Col.  Harry  A.  Halver- 
son  and  headquarters  of  RAF,  Middle  East.  The  detachment  was  in- 
structed to  proceed  to  Khartoum  and  await  orders.  When  the  orders 
came,  they  directed  Halverson  to  the  Delta  for  the  Ploesti  mission, 
and,  because  of  the  full-blown  emergency  which  quickly  developed  in 
the  Middle  East,  his  bombers  were  fated  to  remain  there.^** 

The  RAF  made  available  a  plan,  on  which  it  had  been  working  for 
two  years,  which  involved  flying  via  the  Aegean,  rendezvousing  near 
the  target  at  daybreak  for  a  formation  attack,  and  returning  to  Egypt 
over  the  same  route.  Halverson,  however,  whose  command  constituted 
an  independent  task  force,  finally  decided  to  return  to  Habbaniyeh 
in  Iraq  despite  the  hazard  of  violating  Turkish  neutrality.  Late  in  the 
evening  of  1 1  June,  then,  thirteen  B-24D's  took  off  singly  from  Fayid, 
an  RAF  field  near  the  Canal;  twelve  proceeded  individually  to  the 
target,  which  they  reached  and  bombed  at  dawn  through  and  below  an 
overcast  at  about  10,000  feet.  Only  four  of  the  returning  aircraft  made 
Habbaniyeh;  three  others  got  down  at  other  Iraq  fields,  and  two  put 
in  at  Aleppo.  Four  B-24's  were  interned  in  Turkey,  and  the  heavy 
loss— another  B-24  had  crash-landed— contrasted  with  the  negligible 
damage  sustained  by  the  oil  installations.  Probably  the  most  favorable 
aspect  of  the  raid  was  the  impression  the  big  bombers  produced  on  the 
intensely  interested  citizens  of  Ankara.^*^ 

Despite  its  modest  results,  this  strike  of  1 2  June  was  as  significant 
in  its  way  as  any  the  AAF  had  flown  in  the  six  months  since  Pearl 
Harbor.  It  was  the  first  American  mission  in  World  War  II  to  be 
leveled  against  a  strategic  target,  if  the  Tokyo  raid  be  excepted.  It 
struck  at  an  objective  which  later  would  become  a  favored  target  for 
American  bombers.  It  was  the  first  blow  at  a  target  system  whose  dis- 
location contributed  mightily  to  the  final  German  collapse.  It  was  the 
first  mission  by  what  later  came  to  be  known  as  the  Ninth  Air  Force. 

10 


CRISIS   IN   THE    MIDDLE  EAST 


In  June  1942  the  British  in  the  Middle  East  underwent  another  of 
their  recurrent  crises,  the  gravest  and  the  last  they  were  to  sustain. 
If  a  year  before  it  generally  had  been  considered  that  only  the  require- 
ments of  Hitler's  drive  into  the  U.S.S.R.  had  saved  Egypt,  this  time 
seasoned  military  observers  conceded  its  possible  loss.  On  12  and 
1 3  June,  just  after  Halverson's  planes  had  carried  out  the  Ploesti  mis- 
sion, the  battle  which  had  been  raging  for  two  indecisive  weeks  in 
Libya  took  a  turn  for  the  worse.  Rommel  succeeded  in  luring  Maj. 
Gen.  Neil  Ritchie's  numerically  superior  Eighth  Army  into  a  tank 
trap  in  the  Knightsbridge  area,  the  ^'Cauldron"  of  sad  memory.  In  the 
Cauldron  230  British  tanks  were  destroyed.^^ 

While  their  desert  army  staggered  under  its  appalling  tank  losses,  the 
British  were  anxiously  watching  the  progress  of  one  of  their  periodic 
provisioning  expeditions  to  Malta.  The  island  had  been  in  receipt  of 
a  savage  Luftwaffe  blitz  (an  invasion,  for  which  a  German  parachute 
division  was  being  prepared,  had  been  scheduled  to  follow  Rommers 
blow  at  the  Eighth  Army).  The  blitz  had  all  but  knocked  out  the  RAF 
fighter  defenses,  forced  the  Royal  Navy  to  abandon  Valetta  as  a  base 
for  surface  units,  and  somewhat  lessened  the  worries  of  Rommel's 
quartermaster.^^ 

Passing  ships  through  to  Malta  was  at  best  a  perilous  enterprise;  and 
in  hopes  of  forcing  a  division  of  enemy  efforts  the  British  had  decided 
on  a  large  operation  involving  two  convoys,  one  from  the  east  and 
one  from  the  west,  to  berth  at  Malta  within  twenty-four  hours  of 
each  other.  The  convoy  westward  from  Egypt  faced  the  grimmer 
prospect  because  it  was  liable  to  a  greater  weight  of  air  attack— from 
Crete,  Libya,  and  Sicily;  the  danger  here  had,  moreover,  increased, 
since  the  RAF  no  longer  held  fighter  airfields  on  the  Cyrenaican  hump. 
The  British  chiefs  of  staff  were  unhappily  convinced  that  the  Axis 
knew  all  about  the  projected  blockade  run  and  was  preparing  a  warm 
reception.  Thus,  when  Halverson's  long-range  bombers  made  their 
appearance  in  the  Levant,  Air  Chief  Marshal  Sir  Arthur  Tedder,  the 
air  officer  commanding  Middle  East,  perceiving  their  value  in  the  event 
of  a  sortie  by  the  Italian  fleet,  requested  through  British  channels  their 
assistance  in  fighting  through  the  convoy.  After  some  hesitation  the 
War  Department  approved  on  10  June,  just  before  the  Ploesti  mission.^^ 

Convoy  A  passed  eastward  through  Gibraltar  on  13  June,  took  its 
losses,  and  came  into  Malta  on  the  i6th.  Convoy  B,  westward  from 
Egypt,  had  been  in  motion  three  days  when,  on  15  June,  seven  of 

1 1 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  11 


Halverson's  B-24's  and  two  Liberators  of  160  Squadron,  RAF,  were 
ordered  out  with  torpedo-carrying  Beauforts  against  the  Italian  fleet, 
which  had  now  put  to  sea.  Locating  the  fleet,  the  Beauforts  sank  a 
cruiser,  and  five  of  the  USAAF  planes  bombed,  claiming  hits  on  a 
Littorio-clsss  battleship  and  a  Trento-chss  cruiser.  Had  their  British 
bombs  been  heavier  (2,000-pounders  instead  of  500-pounders)  the 
damage  might  have  been  crippling;  as  it  was  the  fleet  did  not  reduce 


B£l R  UT  i      • RAYAK 

f  f' 


If 


THE     DELTA    AND    RELATED    AREAS       |  ^ 


ST.J^EAN  O'ACRE 

HA  I  ''^I^^MAr  OAVID 
I  •MUOEIBILE 

TEL  AVIV  \ 
• .LYOOA 


■A 

{  Dead 
•  GAZA  :;Sea 


UE.AHOR.A'^^flf/V^  ■ 

sueir**|qeversoir 

v(    #  /'    cj,  VI  f.^'-«KA  BRIT 


9 


ELALAMEIN  HELIOP.OLIS^      '^'^ " "  v^S  HAN  DOR  ^AQABA 


speed.  According  to  the  RAF,  however,  the  damage  inflicted  by  the 
Beauforts  and  the  B-24's  kept  two  battleships  in  dock  for  the  ensuing 
three  months.  Returning  to  base  at  minimum  altitude,  the  bomber  for- 
mation encountered  and  shot  down  an  Me-i  10,  achieving  the  first  aerial 
victory  in  which  Americans  had  participated  in  the  Middle  East. 
Convoy  B,  however,  was  forced  to  turn  back,  its  ammunition  expended 
fighting  off  repeated  air  attacks.^^ 

Because  of  the  difficulties  which  HALPRO  as  an  independent  task 
force  had  posed  in  combined  operations  with  the  British,^^  on  16  June 
General  Maxwell  suggested  to  Washington  that  Halverson  be  in- 
structed to  report  to  him  as  chief  of  the  North  African  mission,^^  The 
War  Department,  for  its  part,  had  been  planning  for  some  time  to 

12 


CRISIS    IN   THE    MIDDLE  EAST 


appoint  Maxwell  commander  of  a  U.S.  Middle  Eastern  theater  with 
boundaries  coterminous  with  those  of  the  British  Middle  East  Com- 
mand—a measure  calculated  to  establish  unified  control  over  the  bulk 
of  the  Army  activities  in  the  area.^^  In  fact,  by  the  i6th,  a  letter  had 
been  prepared  relieving  Maxwell  of  his  mission  command  and  desig- 
nating him  commanding  general  of  U.S.  Army  Forces  in  the  Middle 
East  (USAFIME).  The  cable  which  went  out  on  the  17  th  to  advise 
him  of  his  new  status  also  informed  him  that  the  Halverson  Detach- 
ment had  been  directed  to  assemble  in  the  vicinity  of  Cairo  and  report 
to  him,  the  news  of  the  attack  on  the  Italian  fleet  having  evidently 
convinced  the  War  Department  that,  for  the  time  being  at  least,  the 
B-24's  Avould  be  most  useful  in  the  Middle  East.^^  On  19  June,  Maxwell 
formally  assumed  command  of  USAFIME.  He  was  given  to  under- 
stand, however,  that  if  the  parlous  situation  in  the  Middle  East  neces- 
sitated the  sending  of  an  American  ground-air  task  force,  its  com- 
mander would  also  command  USAFIME.^® 

Maxwell  was  still  pondering  his  sudden  elevation  and  new  respon- 
sibilities when  the  British  suffered  fresh  disasters.  Gen.  Sir  Claude 
Auchinleck  had  had  no  intention  of  allowing  any  part  of  his  forces  to 
be  shut  up  in  Tobruk,  but  enemy  successes  on  its  flank  finally  isolated 
the  fortress.  Nevertheless,  ninety-day  provisions  for  a  garrison  of  over 
25,000  were  stored  behind  the  port's  fortifications.  With  Tobruk 
constricting  Rommers  supplies,  the  Eighth  Army  could  stand  in  the 
strong  frontier  positions  at  Solium  and  Half aya  Pass,  and  before  ninety 
days  it  could  expect  to  be  back.  Rommel  overwhelmed  Tobruk  on 
a  single  day,  20  June,  and  what  had  been  a  limited  drive  in  the  desert 
became  an  all-out  attempt  on  Suez.^'' 

On  1 7  June,  Churchill  had  left  England  for  the  United  States  and 
another  of  the  periodic  war  conferences.  As  he  afterward  admitted 
to  Commons,  at  the  time  of  his  departure  neither  he  nor  Sir  Alan 
Brooke,  chief  of  the  Imperial  General  Staff,  had  been  made  fully  aware 
of  the  disaster  befallen  the  Eighth  Army  at  Knightsbridge,  Once  in 
Washington  and  apprised  of  the  danger,  Churchill  made  a  powerful 
plea  for  American  military  aid,  and  especially  air  aid.  His  sentiments 
were  seconded  by  urgent  messages  from  Colonel  Fellers  warning  that 
only  the  employment  of  Axis  energies  elsewhere  had  so  far  saved  the 
Middle  East.  Should  the  enemy  immediately  take  the  offensive,  the 
only  assistance  that  could  be  provided  in  time  would  be  that  of  the 
heavy  bombers.^® 

13 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 


The  American  Joint  Chiefs,  who  were  interested  in  husbanding  their 
resources  for  decisive  air  and  amphibious  actions  in  western  Europe 
in  1943,  were  thus  presented  with  a  dilemma.  To  lose  the  Middle  East 
meant  to  lose  the  southern  supply  routes  to  the  U.S.S.R.  and  the  main 
air  ferry  route  to  India.  India  itself  would  be  rendered  difficult,  if  not 
impossible,  to  defend,  and  the  life  line  to  China  would  be  correspond- 
ingly endangered.  Loss  of  the  oil  wells  in  Iraq  and  Iran  would  be  a 
most  severe  blow,  tantamount  to  cessation  of  Allied  air  and  naval 
activity  in  the  Indian  Ocean.  The  economic  gain  to  the  Axis,  although 
admittedly  substantial,  would  not  be  so  great  as  the  economic  and 
strategic  loss  to  the  Allies.  And  the  key  to  the  Middle  East  was 
Egypt:  the  best  hostile  avenue  to  the  Persian  Gulf,  the  Allied  base 
most  convenient  for  reinforcing  any  threatened  part  of  the  Middle 
Eastern  area.^® 

Despite  the  vigor  of  the  Prime  Minister's  demands,  the  Americans 
succeeded  in  the  end  in  restricting  their  troop  commitments  to  Air 
Corps  units,  although  for  a  short  time  it  was  planned  to  send  an  armored 
division  under  Maj.  Gen.  George  S.  Patton,  Jr.,  and  generous  amounts 
of  materiel  continued  to  flow  to  the  Middle  East.^^  Especially  useful 
for  the  desert  war  were  the  new  Sherman  tanks  for,  as  an  English  ob- 
server put  it,  at  that  date  in  the  war  the  British  had  still  not  pro- 
duced a  tank  capable  of  taking  on  the  Panzers  on  even  approximately 
equal  terms.^^ 

The  Air  Corps'  commitments  were  set  forth  in  the  Arnold-Portal- 
Towers  agreement,  signed  on  2 1  June  and  approved  by  the  U.S.  Joint 
Chiefs  on  the  25th.*  As  agreed  in  London  in  May,  nine  combat  groups 
were  to  go  to  the  Middle  East;  but  the  dates  for  their  commitment 
were  advanced,  and  in  contrast  with  other  earlier  paper  commitments 
the  Combined  Chiefs  bent  every  effort  to  get  the  units  in  motion. 
A  group  of  heavies  was  to  be  at  full  strength  in  the  theater  by  Oc- 
tober 1942,  one  group  of  mediums  operational  in  the  theater  by  Sep- 
tember and  another  by  the  end  of  the  year.  Six  groups  of  pursuits  were 
to  be  sent  on  the  following  schedule:  one  by  i  September  1942,  one 
by  I  October,  two  by  i  January  1943,  and  two  more  by  i  April.  On 
27  June,  The  Adjutant  General  gave  Maxwell  somewhat  more  detailed 
information  on  the  tentative  build-up  of  the  air  force  for  his  theater. 
Besides  the  groups  listed  above,  there  were  "on  order"  headquarters 
units  for  an  air  force,  a  fighter  command,  and  an  air  service  command. 

*  For  full  detail,  see  Vol.  I,  566-70. 

14 


CRISIS    IN    THE    MIDDLE  EAST 


The  air  service  command  would  comprise  two  air  depot  groups, 
sailing  in  September  1942  and  March  1943,  and  five  service  groups, 
one  each  moving  in  July  and  October  1942,  two  in  December,  and 
the  last  in  March  1943.^"  These  USAAF  units  were  understood  to 
be  in  lieu  of  RAF  units  which  otherwise  would  have  gone  to  the 
Middle  East. 

As  always,  the  chief  difficulty  in  deploying  these  units  consisted  in 
finding  shipping  for  them  without  deranging  other  approved  military 
movements,  such  as  the  BOLERO  concentration  of  U.S.  forces  in 
the  United  Kingdom  which  at  this  time  took  precedence  over  the 
various  global  commitments.  By  25  June  some  progress  had  been 
made:  Admiral  King  had  approved  the  use  of  the  aircraft  carrier  Ranger 
to  ferry  P-40's  to  Takoradi,  whence  they  could  be  flown  by  their 
pilots  over  the  established  route  across  central  Africa  and  by  way  of 
Khartoum  to  Cairo;  the  British  had  agreed  to  the  use  of  the  S.S.  Pasteur, 
a  fast  22-knot  personnel  ship,  to  bring  4,000  Air  Corps  troops  into 
Egypt.  Since  the  initial  AAF  combat  groups  were  to  go  minus  main- 
tenance units,  the  Air  Ministry  had  already  advised  Tedder  that  British 
maintenance  personnel  would  have  to  be  provided.^^ 

For  more  immediate  aid  to  the  hard  pressed  British,  the  War  Depart- 
ment turned  to  India.  Fellers  had  previously  recommended  that  the 
CBI  furnish  heavy  bombers  for  the  Middle  East.  In  his  opinion,  if  the 
Middle  East  went,  so  went  India;  the  converse,  which  he  alleged  to  be 
the  British  strategic  emphasis,  he  regarded  as  untrue.  The  War  Depart- 
ment may  have  shared  his  views,  or  reasoned  that  the  imminent  mon- 
soon season  would  ground  the  CBI  bombers.  At  any  rate,  on  23  June 
a  message  went  out  to  Brereton,  ordering  him  to  Egypt  on  temporary 
duty  to  assist  Auchinleck.  Brereton  was  to  take  with  him  such  heavy 
bombers  as  he  could  muster.  On  arrival  he  was  to  make  use  of  Maxwell's 
headquarters  for  liaison  and  Coordination  with  the  British;  and  eventu- 
ally, when  the  emergency  had  passed,  he  would  return  to  India.  General 
Stilwell  was  so  advised.  Brereton  interrupted  a  staff  meeting  at  New 
Delhi  to  read  the  cable  ordering  him  to  Egypt.  He  combed  from  his 
by  no  means  redoubtable  air  force  nine  B-17's  of  the  9th  Bombard- 
ment Squadron;  ''near  cripples,'*  they  were  described.  Two  days  later 
he  left  India.  Altogether  225  men  flew  in  his  party,  in  bombers  and 
transports,  prominent  among  them  Adler  and  Col.  Victor  H.  Strahm.^* 

On  28  June,  upon  Brereton's  arrival  at  Cairo,  Maxwell's  headquarters 
issued  orders  placing  him  in  command  of  the  U.S.  Army  Middle  East 

15 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


Air  Force,  comprising  the  Halverson  Detachment,  the  Brereton  De- 
tachment, and  the  air  section  of  the  North  African  mission.  Brereton 
then  activated  the  USAMEAF  in  his  first  general  order.^"^  Subordina- 
tion to  Maxwell  came  as  an  unexpected  shock  to  Brereton,  whose  in- 
structions were  merely  to  use  Maxwell's  headquarters  for  liaison  and 
coordination  with  the  British.  Brereton's  initial  reaction  to  USAFIME 
was  that  it  was  an  extra  and  unnecessary  link  in  the  chain  of  command, 
likely  to  cumber  relations  with  the  British  and,  consequently,  his 
combat  operations— a  link,  moreover,  presided  over  by  a  ground  officer 
junior  to  him.  Whatever  initial  coolness  this  situation  caused  between 
the  generals  soon  gave  way  to  cordial  relations  which  endured  through- 
out Maxwell's  tenure  as  theater  commander,  a  tenure  which  from  the 
outset  was  understood  to  be  temporary.^^  Also  activated  on  28  June 
was  the  Air  Service  Command,  USAMEAF,  of  which  Adler  assumed 
command.  Adler's  chief  immediate  duties  were  to  see  that  requests 
for  supplies  and  equipment  went  to  appropriate  RAF  elements,  for 
no  service  units  or  Air  Corps  supply  existed  in  his  command.^^ 

Brereton's  initial  force  was  small,  but  in  the  former  air  section  of 
the  North  African  mission  he  gained  the  services  of  a  number  of  men 
quite  familiar  with  the  tactical  and  logistical  problems  of  the  Middle 
East.  The  help  earlier  extended  to  the  British  was  paying  dividends. 
At  Gura  was  a  depot  for  the  repair  of  American  aircraft.  Moreover, 
the  North  African  mission  had  turned  to  account  its  observations  of 
the  Mediterranean  war  by  laying  plans  for  the  advent  of  an  American 
air  force,  a  development  its  members  had  considered  only  a  matter 
of  time.^® 

Furthermore,  in  its  formative  days  USAMEAF  could  lean  on  the 
RAF,  Middle  East,  a  fine  fighting  force  destined  to  pass  on  to  Brere- 
ton's command,  and  eventually  to  the  whole  Army  Air  Forces,  lessons 
it  had  learned  in  the  stern  school  of  experience.  Except  for  its  hopeless 
struggle  in  the  Greek  and  Cretan  campaigns,  the  RAF,  ME  had  con- 
sistently maintained  an  ascendancy  over  its  Italian  and  German  op- 
ponents. In  June  1942,  at  the  moment  when  USAAF  reinforcements 
were  being  rushed  to  the  defense  of  the  Delta,  the  RAF  was  carrying 
out  a  furious  offensive  against  the  Axis  columns  rolling  into  Egypt. 
When  the  military  observers  had  the  leisure  to  study  the  campaign, 
they  concluded  that  the  RAF's  unprecedented  offensive  protecting  the 
retreat  of  the  Eighth  Army  had  prevented  that  retreat  from  becoming 
a  rout.  The  army  might  not  have  stopped  at  El  Alamein.^® 

16 


CRISIS    IN   THE   MIDDLE  EAST 

Under  Tedder  there  were  a  number  of  principal  subcommands. 
Air  Vice  Marshal  Sir  Arthur  Coningham,  as  the  commander  of  the 
Western  Desert  Air  Force,  had  the  primary  responsibility  of  cooper- 
ating with  Eighth  Army  headquarters.  Air  Headquarters,  Egypt,  de- 
fended the  army's  lines  of  communication,  the  Canal,  and  the  cities  of 
the  Delta,  while  Air  Headquarters,  Malta,  operated  the  RAF  squadrons 
in  that  beleaguered  isle.  No.  201  Group  cooperated  with  the  Royal 
Navy  on  such  matters  as  air  protection  for  friendly  shipping,  recon- 
naissance of  and  strikes  against  Axis  shipping,  and  antisubmarine 
patrols.  No.  205  Group  operated  what  heavy  and  medium  bomber 
squadrons  the  RAF  possessed.  It  should  be  mentioned  that  there  was  no 
unified  British  command  in  the  Middle  East.  Tedder  as  air  officer  com- 
manding in  chief  enjoyed  a  coequal  status  with  the  army  and  navy  com- 
manders in  chief,  at  that  time  General  Auchinleck  and  Adm.  Sir 
Henry  Harwood.^*^ 

While  Brereton  had  been  stripping  India  of  bombers  preparatory 
to  departure  for  the  Middle  East,  the  Halverson  Detachment,  as  the 
only  AAF  combat  unit  in  Egypt,  was  adding  what  weight  it  could  to 
the  efforts  to  stop  the  drive  on  Suez.  As  ordered  by  Washington,  it 
worked  under  the  operational  direction  of  the  RAF  (No.  205  Group), 
and  it  struck  at  the  harbors  serving  Rommel.  Halverson  had  hoped 
to  go  on  to  China,  but  the  War  Department,  after  consideration  of 
the  situation  in  Burma,  ordered  him  to  stay  on  in  the  Middle  East,  once 
again  "temporarily."  On  the  night  of  21/22  June,  nine  of  the  B-24's 
raided  Bengasi  harbor  after  British  Wellingtons  had  lit  the  target  with 
flares  and  incendiaries.  Three  nights  later  the  mission  was  repeated; 
after  this  raid  Bengasi  passed  out  of  range  of  the  Wellingtons  as  the 
progress  of  the  Axis  armies  forced  the  RAF  successively  closer  to 
the  Delta  fields.  Tobruk  was  added  to  the  list  of  the  detachment's  targets 
on  the  26th  when  a  diversion  was  flown  by  the  B-24's  for  an  Albacore 
attack  on  two  merchant  vessels.'*^ 

At  the  end  of  June,  when  USAMEAF  was  set  up,  the  British  were 
feverishly  preparing  the  defense  of  the  Delta.  Auchinleck  had  sent 
posthaste  to  Syria  and  Lebanon  for  the  British  Ninth  Army's  only 
effective  units.  If  he  could  hold  until  the  reinforcements  coming  from 
England  by  the  Good  Hope  route  could  reach  him,  he  might  not  only 
save  Egypt  but  the  Eighth  Army  might  eventually  once  again  pass 
over  to  the  offensive.  But  it  was  with  no  thought  of  an  immediate  offen- 
sive that  Auchinleck  took  over  personal  command  of  the  Eighth.  By 

17 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD  WAR  II 


I  July  he  had  dug  in  at  El  Alamein  on  a  thirty-two-mile  line  stretching 
from  the  sea  to  the  Qattara  Depression,  the  desert's  last  good  defensive 
position.  By  3  July  the  heavy  units  of  the  British  fleet  had  withdrawn 
through  the  Canal  to  the  upper  reaches  of  the  Red  Sea,  and  a  general 
civilian  and  military  exodus  from  Egypt  had  begun.  Brereton  and 
Maxwell  were  perfecting  plans  to  fall  back  with  their  heavy  bombers 
toward  the  Persian  Gulf  area,  in  case  the  Eighth  Army  were  destroyed.*^ 

Brereton  had  already  on  30  June  sent  his  B-17's  to  Lydda  in  Pales- 
tine, but  the  Halverson  Detachment  stayed  on  at  Fayid  until  16  July. 
Both  units  operated  directly  against  Rommel's  supplies,  which  were 
becoming  increasingly  inadequate  owing  to  the  normal  difficulties  of 
administration  under  conditions  of  mobile  warfare  and  to  the  consid- 
erable distance  separating  Tobruk,  the  nearest  major  port,  from  the 
battle  line  at  Alamein.  Between  26  June  and  5  July,  nine  missions  were 
flown,  all  but  one  against  Tobruk.  The  B-17's  of  the  9th  Squadron 
participated  in  two  attacks,  one  by  night,  and  the  B-24's,  sometimes 
in  company  with  the  RAF's  Liberator  squadron,  also  operated  both 
by  day  and  by  night.  All  missions  were,  by  later  standards,  on  an 
extremely  small  scale,  no  more  than  ten  American  bombers  setting 
out  on  any  single  occasion;  moreover,  available  records  do  not  give 
any  detailed  estimate  of  the  damage  inflicted.  Generally  speaking,  the 
opposition,  either  by  AA  or  intercepting  fighters,  was  not  very  effec- 
tive. One  B-24  failed  to  return  from  a  mission  on  the  night  of  29/30 
June,  during  which  an  enemy  night  fighter  appeared,  but  no  con- 
nection was  established  between  these  events  and  the  crewmen  were 
simply  put  down  as  missing.  The  only  attack  not  directed  against 
Tobruk  was  carried  out  after  dark  against  an  enemy  convoy  and 
succeeded  in  firing  a  tanker. 

The  immediate  threat  to  Egypt  subsided  in  a  series  of  stubborn 
battles  on  the  Alamein  line  in  which  the  initiative  gradually  passed 
to  the  Eighth  Army.  The  Axis  units  had  been  pushed  to  the  limit  of 
endurance  in  their  career  into  Egypt,  while  the  Eighth  Army  had 
fallen  back  on  strength.  Moreover,  the  RAF,  despite  the  necessities  of 
successive  retreats,  continued  to  best  the  GAF  and  the  lAF  and  to 
harass  the  weary  enemy  ground  forces.  The  RAF  bag  of  Stukas  was 
particularly  comforting  during  these  operations.  Although  stalemate 
had  been  reached  on  the  Alamein  line  by  the  end  of  the  first  week 
in  July,  not  until  the  end  of  the  month  did  the  opposing  armies  accept 
the  situation  and  settle  down  for  rest  while  awaiting  reinforcements.^^ 
18 


CRISIS    IN    THE    MIDDLE  EAST 

The  Tide  Turns 
For  the  war  in  the  Western  Desert  there  were  what  may  be  called, 
for  convenience,  primary  and  secondary  lines  of  supply.  The  primary 
lines  were  the  water  routes  over  which  the  sinews  of  war  moved  to 
the  African  ports.  The  secondary  supply  lines  extended  from  the  ports 
of  entry  to  the  front.  In  the  first  category  the  Axis  always  had  the 
advantage  of  the  short  haul  across  the  Mediterranean.  Because  the 
Mediterranean  was  closed  to  the  Americans  and  the  British,  their  haul 
was,  on  the  other  hand,  of  fantastic  length— it  is  13,000  miles  from 
England  to  the  Suez  via  the  Good  Hope  route—and,  although  this 
supply  line  was  never  seriously  endangered  by  air  or  submarine  attack, 
it  imposed  an  almost  intolerable  strain  on  Allied  shipping  resources. 
In  one  particular,  however,  the  Allies  had  the  advantage— their  prox- 
imity to  the  oil  refineries  in  Iraq.  From  Bahrein  and  Abadan  came 
loo-octane  gas. 

When  the  battle  line  was  stabilized  at  El  Alamein,  the  secondary 
lines  of  supply  began  heavily  to  favor  the  British;  the  Suez  depots,  if 
anything,  were  a  little  too  close  to  the  front.  Rommel,  on  the  contrary, 
had  overextended  himself:  he  was  relying  largely  on  British  supplies 
captured  during  his  advance;  his  nearest  port  of  any  size  lay  at  Tobruk, 
350  miles  to  the  rear.  He  controlled  as  well,  of  course,  Matruh's  small 
harbor,  150  miles  back,  and  Bengasi,  600  miles  away.  If  the  enemy 
powers  could  have  supphed  and  fueled  a  large  air  force  and  wrested 
air  superiority  from  the  RAF,  they  might  have,  with  bomb  and  aerial 
mine,  severely  impaired  the  flow  of  Allied  supplies  at  Suez.  In  the 
nature  of  the  case  the  Axis  could  do  neither,  and  its  own  supply  line 
began  to  fail  under  air  and  sea  attack. 

The  main  Axis  shipping  routes  to  North  Africa  gave  Malta  a  wide 
berth.  One  route  was  as  follows:  leaving  Naples  the  ships  made  for 
Palermo,  skirted  Sicily's  western  tip,  ran  for  Cap  Bon,  kept  close  in- 
shore along  Tunisia  and  Tripolitania  to  Tripoli;  from  there  they 
might  hug  shore  to  Bengasi  or  undertake  to  dash  across  the  Gulf  of 
Sirte.  Smaller  craft  then  crept  on  to  Tobruk,  Derna,  or  Matruh.  Alter- 
nately, ships  out  of  Naples  could  proceed  by  way  of  the  Strait  of 
Messina  and  the  heel  of  Italy  and  join  the  route  leading  from  Brindisi 
and  Taranto  along  the  Greek  coast  and  thence  across  to  Tobruk.  A 
variation  of  this  eastern  route  involved  a  passage  through  the  Corinth 
Canal  and  a  stopover  at  Crete. 


19 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


Convoys  plying  these  lanes  were  given  aerial  as  well  as  naval  pro- 
tection. On  the  southward  runs  from  Greece  and  Crete  the  Germans 
provided  day-fighter  escort,  Me-109's  or  iios  from  both  Libya  and 
Crete,  the  Me-i  lo's  carrying  antisubmarine  bombs  and  depth  charges 
which  they  jettisoned  on  approach  of  hostile  aircraft.  During  the  sum- 
mer of  1942,  the  enemy  introduced  a  new  feature  to  ease  his  main- 
tenance problem  at  Alamein— tank  landing  craft  (F-boats)  which  sailed 
in  convoy  from  Tobruk  to  Matruh.  But  after  some  experimentation 
the  RAF  found  a  method  of  attacking  the  heavily  armed  F-boat  which 
forced  the  enemy  pretty  largely  back  on  road  and  rail  transportation 
for  moving  supplies  east  of  Tobruk. 

An  incessant  campaign  against  enemy  provisioning  was  carried  out 
by  airplanes  and  submarines  based  on  Malta  and  in  Egypt,  the  im- 
portance of  the  Delta  gaining  as  the  recurrent  blitzes  hindered  Malta's 
operations.  The  RAF's  Egypt-based  201  Group  had  been  formed  in 
September  1941  in  anticipation  of  the  attempted  neutralization  of 
Malta,  and  with  the  cooperation  of  205  Group,  of  Air  Headquarters, 
Western  Desert,  and  of  the  newly  arrived  USAAF  the  battle  went  on 
unabated  during  the  critical  summer  months  of  1942,  with  special 
attention  being  paid  to  tankers.  The  Americans  began  to  take  their 
heavy  bombers  not  only  to  Tobruk,  Bengasi,  and  Matruh  but  to 
Navarino  Bay  in  the  Peloponnesus  and  Suda  Bay  off  northern  Crete, 
assembly  points  for  convoys,  and  to  places  as  distant  as  the  Corinth 
Canal.^^ 

On  20  July,  the  Brereton  and  Halverson  detachments  at  Lydda, 
previously  given  squadron  designations,  were  organized  under  Halver- 
son's  command  as  the  ist  Provisional  Group.  Their  combined  strength 
was  not  impressive,  being  reported  by  Brereton  as  nineteen  B-24's  and 
nine  B-17's,  of  which  on  19  July  seven  and  three,  respectively,  were 
operationally  fit.  At  this  point,  however,  the  promised  reinforcements 
began  to  arrive  from  the  States,  the  air  echelon  of  the  344th  Squadron 
of  the  98th  Group  (B-24's)  coming  into  Ramat  David,  Palestine,  on 
the  25th.  By  7  August  the  complete  group  was  in  the  Holy  Land  under 
Col.  Hugo  P.  Rush,  two  squadrons  apiece  at  Ramat  David  and  St. 
Jean  d'Acre.  The  98th  carried  with  it  enough  small  spare  parts  for 
the  anticipated  period  before  its  ground  echelon  would  arrive,  a 
wise  precaution  considering  the  limited  facilities  of  USAMEAF  Air 
Service  Command. 

For  targets  westward  of  Egypt  it  was  normal  course  for  USAMEAF's 

20 


CRISIS    IN   THE    MIDDLE  EAST 


heavies,  which  received  their  mission  orders  and  plans  from  205  Group, 
to  .  stage  through  Fayid  where  the  briefing  was  accomplished  and 
whence  the  bombers  took  off  for  Tobruk  or  Bengasi.  Unfortunately, 
communications  were  not  too  efficient  and  the  necessary  warning 
orders  were  not  always  early  enough  for  the  American  commanders 
in  Palestine.  This  problem  led  to  the  establishment  of  a  small  opera- 
tional staff  at  Fayid  and  of  Maj.  Alfred  F.  Kalberer  as  liaison  officer 
with  205  Group  at  Ismailia/^  Malta  and  Egypt  sent  out  the  photo- 
reconnaissance  Spitfires  and  205  Group  determined  the  targets.  From 
5  July  to  30  August  the  American  planes  carried  out  an  average  of 
five  missions  a  week,  working  by  day  in  the  excellent  Mediterranean 
summer  weather  or  going  out  on  night  strikes  with  the  RAF.  The 
B-17's,  unable  to  reach  Bengasi  harbor  from  Fayid,  concentrated  their 
efforts  on  Tobruk,  which  as  Rommel's  most  important  depot  attracted 
the  greater  share  of  the  combined  bomber  effort.  Attacks  on  convoys 
at  sea  or  in  Greek  waters  accounted  for  about  a  third  of  ail  the  USAAF 
heavy  bomber  missions.  On  the  night  of  5  July,  however,  the  Hal 
Squadron,  the  redesignated  Halverson  Detachment,  struck  at  Bengasi 
and  caused  a  terrific  explosion,  thought  to  represent  a  hit  on  an  ammu- 
nition ship  in  the  harbor. 

Four  days  later,  on  an  unsuccessful  hunt  for  a  convoy,  six  of  Hal 
Squadron's  B-24's  were  attacked  by  four  Me-109's;  two  of  the  fighters 
were  shot  down,  but  a  B-24  and  crew  were  also  lost.  When  convoys 
were  engaged,  however,  the  results  were  often  excellent:  on  22  July, 
Hal  Squadron  hit  two  ships  in  Suda  Bay;  on  the  27th  it  hit  two  more 
in  the  open  sea;  on  the  30th  a  merchantman  in  Navarino  Bay  took 
a  bomb.  RAF  reconnaissance  confirmed  that  as  the  result  of  an  attack 
on  I  August  a  10,000-ton  tanker,  one  of  a  class  supplying  the  bulk  of 
Rommel's  oil  and  gas,  went  to  the  bottom.  On  21  August  nine  B-24's 
from  two  squadrons  of  the  98th  Group  engaged  a  convoy  just  south- 
west of  Crete;  two  more  merchant  ships  were  scored  as  probably 
sunk.  Two  Me-i  lo's  and  an  Me- 109  attacked  the  bombers  and  forced 
one  B-24,  which  was  straggling,  to  come  down  in  the  sea.  Three  days 
later  an  unsuccessful  attack  was  made  on  the  Corinth  Canal.  The 
damage  inflicted  on  Tobruk  or  Bengasi  by  any  single  attack  during 
this  period  is  hard  to  evaluate.'*^ 

Although  USAMEAF  operations  proceeded  on  a  modest  scale,  they 
demonstrated  the  larger  fact  that  the  Middle  East  was  an  area  in  which 
the  employment  of  heavy  bombers  was  peculiarly  lucrative.  Brereton 

21 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


made  this  the  central  theme  in  his  first  strategic  estimate,  dispatched 
home  by  cable  on  5  August,  after  he  had  found  time  to  study  the 
general  character  of  the  Middle  Eastern  war.^^  He  indicated  three 
major  objectives  for  the  Allied  air  forces:  to  assist  the  destruction  of 
Rommel  by  direct  and  indirect  air  support  to  ground  troops;  to  secure 
the  sea  and  air  communications  on  and  over  the  Mediterranean;  to 
carry  out  a  sustained  air  offensive  against  Italy  and  the  vital  oil  installa- 
tions at  Ploesti  and  in  the  Caucasus,  should  the  latter  fall  into  Axis  hands. 

Brereton  believed  additional  bombardment  aircraft  necessary  before 
the  Eighth  Army  could  take  the  offensive  with  good  prospect  of  suc- 
cess. He  asked,  therefore,  in  order  to  meet  this  first  requirement,  that 
the  established  schedule  of  USAAF  units  for  the  Middle  East  be 
revised  to  permit  the  sending  of  the  units  "at  the  earliest  possible  date"; 
and  that  two  heavy  groups,  preferably  B-24's,  and  two  light  or  medium 
groups,  preferably  dive  bombers,  be  added  to  the  Middle  East  com- 
mitment and  dispatched  "immediately."  These  aircraft  were  to  be  used 
for  direct  action  against  the  Axis  army,  against  the  desert-based  GAP 
and  lAF,  and  for  "indirect  support"  against  ports  and  sea  lanes. 

The  attack  on  the  ports  and  sea  lanes  would  forward  the  second 
objective:  securing  the  sea  and  air  communications  in  the  Mediter- 
ranean. Brereton  pointed  out  that  Malta,  formerly  the  best  base  for 
interfering  with  enemy  convoys,  had  seen  its  effectiveness  restricted 
by  repeated  bombing  attacks;  nor  was  the  British  surface  fleet  in  any 
condition  to  interfere.  The  bombardment  aircraft  based  on  Palestine 
or  Egypt  was  the  only  available  weapon  to  fill  the  gap.  Therefore,  to 
accomplish  this  second  objective,  Brereton  asked  for  two  additional 
heavy  groups  and  two  torpedo-carrying  dive-bomber  groups  over  and 
above  the  current  commitments  to  USAMEAF.  He  reminded  the 
War  Department  that  Mediterranean  weather  was  favorable  to  air 
operations,  that  airdromes  were  easily  constructed  and  airdrome  space 
presented  no  problem,  and  that  enemy  defense  against  air  attack 
was  weaker  than  in  northwestern  Europe.  Moreover,  the  British 
were  prepared  to  furnish  initial  maintenance  for  USAAF  groups 
moving  by  air. 

If  the  Eighth  Army  could  defeat  Rommel  and  thereby  secure  Cyr- 
enaica's  airdrome  sites,  the  sustained  air  offensive  against  Italy,  Ploesti, 
and  other  strategic  targets  (objective  number  three)  could  become  a 
reality.  Malta  would  be  more  easily  supplied  and  her  offensive  capabil- 
ities revived.  Then  a  heavy  bomber  offensive  based  on  Malta  and 

22 


CRISIS    IN   THE    MIDDLE  EAST 


Cyprus  would  bring  all  of  Italy,  and  the  Balkans  south  of  Bucharest- 
Budapest,  within  range;  if  combined  with  an  air  offensive  out  of  Eng- 
land against  Germany,  the  result  might  be  to  knock  Italy  out  of  the 
war.  Two  more  heavy  groups  would  be  necessary  for  this  phase. 

Brereton  believed  the  strategic  opportunity  so  great— the  Mediter- 
ranean could  be  opened  in  the  sequence  of  these  operations— that  diver- 
sions from  other  theaters  were  justified  to  find  the  ten  groups  neces- 
sary. "Nibbling"  at  such  vital  targets  only  gave  the  enemy  time  to 
prepare  his  defenses. 

Others  besides  Brereton— and  besides  Maxwell  and  the  British  chiefs 
in  the  Middle  East  by  whom  his  strategic  estimate  had  been  approved- 
thought  the  time  ripe  for  a  blow  to  open  the  Mediterranean,  although 
their  thinking  was  not  so  much  influenced  by  the  realization  of  a 
strategic  opportunity  at  hand  as  by  the  seeming  imminence  of  a  defeat  of 
catastrophic  proportions.  The  Germans  and  their  puppet  armies  on  the 
eastern  front  had  devoted  July  of  1942  to  clearing  the  Soviet  forces 
almost  entirely  out  of  the  Don  bend.  The  next  Axis  move  obviously 
would  be  towards  the  Volga  and  the  oil-rich  Caucasus— the  land  bridge 
to  Asia.  Loss  of  the  Caucasus  might  not  put  the  U.S.S.R.  altogether 
out  of  the  war,  but  it  would  imperil  the  vital  Persian  Gulf  area  and 
endanger  Egypt  and  the  lands  between.  These  possibilities  seemed  to 
put  flesh  on  the  nightmare  of  Allied  strategists,  the  junction  of  Euro- 
pean and  Asiatic  enemies  on  the  shores  of  the  Indian  Ocean.  That 
Germany  and  Japan  had  no  such  plans  for  a  coordinated  strategy  was 
not  then  known  to  the  Allies.*® 

The  deteriorating  situation  on  the  eastern  front  occasioned  a  major 
revision  in  Allied  strategy.  By  August  the  American  and  British  gov- 
ernments had  decided  to  mount  in  1942  Operation  TORCH,*  landings 
on  the  Atlantic  and  Mediterranean  coasts  of  Northwest  Africa,  as  the 
most  practicable  means  of  relieving  the  pressure  on  the  U.S.S.R.  and  of 
removing  the  menace  of  Rommel  from  Egypt.  TORCH  was  to  be 
coordinated  with  a  renewed  offensive  by  the  Eighth  Army.  It  replaced 
ROUNDUP,  the  landing  in  France  projected  for  the  spring  of  1943. 

By  these  circumstances  the  Mediterranean  achieved  a  higher  relative 
importance  as  a  theater  of  war.  Hence,  it  might  have  been  reasonable 
to  expect  that  Brereton's  plea  would  have  found  favor+  and  that 

•  See  below,  pp.  46-47. 

t  Brereton  probably  was  not  aware  of  TORCH  when  he  dispatched  his  strategic 
estimate. 


23 


THE   ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

USAAF  forces  in  the  Middle  East  would  be  reinforced  for  the  coming 
operations.  But  just  prior  to  the  receipt  of  Brereton's  cable  the  Joint 
Chiefs  had  successfully  resisted  a  similar  suggestion  from  a  higher 
quarter.  On  the  evening  of  30  July,  General  Arnold  had  received  a 
summons  to  the  White  House.  He  found  there  with  the  President, 
Adm.  William  D.  Leahy,  Brig.  Gen.  W.  Bedell  Smith,  and  Colonel 
Fellers,  the  last  just  back  from  Cairo.  Fellers  had  delivered  a  very  pes- 
simistic report  on  the  British  ability  to  hold  the  Nile.  On  the  Pres- 
ident's querying  as  to  what  the  United  States  could  do  to  help,  Fellers 
had  indicated  aerial  reinforcements  as  the  most  practicable  form  of  aid. 
These  planes,  explained  Fellers,  would  operate  against  Rommel's  sup- 
ply line.  Arnold  commented  that  substantial  reinforcements  were  al- 
ready on  the  way  to  Egypt  and  that  any  further  reinforcements  to  the 
area  would  injure  the  Eighth  Air  Force,  TORCH,  or  the  Pacific  the- 
aters. The  President  nonetheless  desired  that  the  Joint  Chiefs  look 
into  the  matter. 

On  I  August  the  AAF,  in  a  memorandum  to  the  Operations  Division 
of  the  War  Department,  set  forth  existing  air  commitments  to  the  Mid- 
dle East  and  suggested  paring  down  allocations  to  the  Caribbean  as  the 
most  suitable  means  of  providing  reinforcements  for  USAMEAF.  Ac- 
cording to  General  Arnold,  the  question  of  Middle  East  reinforce- 
ments was  taken  under  advisement  by  the  Joint  Chiefs  as  early  as 
3  August,  two  days  before  Brereton's  strategic  estimate  was  dis- 
patched. The  upshot  of  their  deliberations  was  that  USAAF  aid  to  the 
Eighth  Army  could  be  best  accomplished  by  speeding  up  the  move- 
ment of  units  already  allocated  to  USAMEAF— admittedly  a  limited 
solution. 

Thus  when  the  reply  to  Brereton's  request  for  reinforcements  went 
out  to  Cairo  on  8  August  it  indicated  that  "because  of  other  important 
projects"  it  was  not  "probable"  that  his  air  force  could  be  increased 
beyond  the  present  commitments.  TORCH  had  clearly  become  the 
No.  I  project  on  the  Allied  agenda,  and  although  the  Middle  East 
shortly  received  a  priority  in  shipping  second  only  to  TORCH  it  was 
soon  to  become  evident  that  with  the  limited  Allied  resources  only  the 
No.  I  priority  was  really  comfortable.^^ 

This  was  borne  out  by  diversions  shortly  inflicted  on  USAMEAF.  It 
was  generally  understood  that  Brereton's  command  would  be  redesig- 
nated as  the  Ninth  Air  Force  and,  as  promised  in  June,  the  AAF  was 
training  headquarters  units  for  an  air  force,  a  fighter  command,  and  an 

24 


CRISIS    IN   THE    MIDDLE  EAST 


air  service  command.  In  August  these  units  ran  afoul  of  the  needs  of 
the  new  Twelfth  Air  Force  being  set  up  for  TORCH,  were  diverted, 
redesignated,  rushed  to  England,  and  eventually  landed  at  the  oppo- 
site end  of  the  North  African  littoral.  Not  until  November  did 
USAMEAF  become  the  Ninth  Air  Force.* 

Potentially  more  serious  was  the  diversion  of  the  33d  Fighter  Group 
(P-40's).  The  33d  was  intended  to  fulfil  the  schedule  set  up  by  the 
Arnold-Portal-Towers  agreement  by  which  the  second  fighter  group 
allocated  to  USAMEAF  was  to  arrive  in  the  theater  by  i  October 
1942.+  On  5  September,  however,  Brig.  Gen.  James  H.  Doolittle,  com- 
manding the  Twelfth,  requested  that  the  33d  be  turned  over  to  him 
for  use  in  the  action  against  Casablanca  in  French  Morocco.  The  re- 
action to  this  proposal  was  mixed,  for  it  was  generally  believed  in 
Washington  and  London  as  well  as  in  the  Middle  East  that  a  high 
degree  of  air  superiority  in  the  Western  Desert  would  be  a  great  help 
to  TORCH.  Moreover,  the  33d  was  ready  to  depart  for  the  Middle 
East.  The  niatter  was  finally  left  up  to  Eisenhower  as  TORCH  com- 
mander; the  33d  went  to  Casablanca.  At  the  same  time  he  stressed  that 
P-40's  were  urgently  needed  in  Egypt,  and  the  War  Department,  tak- 
ing the  same  view,  set  up  the  79th  Group  as  a  replacement.®^ 

The  initial  reinforcements  promised  by  the  Arnold-Portal-Towers 
agreement,  however,  had  moved  quickly  to  the  Middle  East.  The  air- 
craft of  the  57  th  Fighter  Group— of  which  Lt.  Col.  Frank  H.  Mears, 
Jr.,  was  commander— left  Quonset,  Rhode  Island,  aboard  the  Ranger 
on  I  July;  when  the  carrier  was  within  100  miles  of  Africa  the  P-40's 
were  flown  off  to  begin  their  journey  over  the  ferry  route.  The  move- 
ment across  Africa  was  very  skillfully  accomplished.  Ground  crews  in 
transport  planes  followed  the  fighters,  spending  the  nights  readying 
the  P-40's  for  the  next  day's  flight,  so  that  a  negligible  percentage  of 
aircraft  was  lost.  By  3 1  July  the  complete  air  echelon  was  at  Muqei- 
bile,  Palestine,  where  a  small  number  of  the  57th's  key  personnel,  trav- 
eling entirely  by  air,  had  arrived  two  weeks  earlier.'^ 

At  about  the  same  time  the  12th  Bombardment  Group  (M),  com- 
manded by  Col.  Charles  Goodrich,  was  added  to  USAMEAF.  Pro- 
ceeding via  Florida,  the  Antilles,  Brazil,  and  Ascension,  the  air  echelon 
also  took  its  B-25's  across  the  central  African  route,  completing  the 
movement  without  losing  a  plane.  The  aircraft  left  Morrison  Field, 
Florida,  between  14  July  and  2  August  and  were  all  in  the  Delta  by 

•See  below,  p.  39.  tSee  above,  p.  14, 

25 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

mid- August,  the  8ist  and  8 2d  Squadrons  at  Deversoir  and  the  83d  and 
434th  at  Ismailia.^^ 

When  the  Pasteur  came  into  Port  Tewfik  on  1 6  August,  not  only 
was  the  personnel  of  USAMEAF  greatly  augmented  but  its  supply 
and  maintenance  prospects  materially  improved.  Aboard  were  the 
ground  echelons  of  the  57th  Fighter  and  the  12th  and  98th  Bom- 
bardment Groups;  their  arrival  permitted  the  relief  of  the  unarmed 
RAF  squadrons  previously  attached  to  take  care  of  the  base  and  main- 
tenance requirements  of  these  groups.  Only  the  ist  Provisional  Group 
was  left  still  leaning  on  similar  British  assistance.  Moreover,  also  on  the 
Pasteur  came  the  323d  Service  Group,  which  promptly  became  a 
jack-of-all-trades  in  USAMEAF  Air  Service  Command. 

General  Adler  had  been  facing  several  problems  unusual  in  an  air 
service  command.  No  American  depot  existed  nearer  than  Gura,  i  ,200 
miles  down  the  Red  Sea,  and  the  RAF  suggested  that  it  take  over 
AAF  supplies  and  make  them  available  to  AAF  units  through  RAF 
distribution  depots.  Adler  and  Brereton,  knowing  the  way  of  depots, 
reasoned  that  the  AAF  would  get  very  few  of  these  supplies  back.  The 
alternative,  of  course,  was  an  AAF  depot.  That  meant  a  depot  site.  Be- 
cause the  British,  backed  up  against  the  Delta,  were  using  every  avail- 
able Egyptian  airdrome,  a  decision  was  finally  taken  in  favor  of  Rayak 
in  Syria,  which  offered  the  desired  facilities— a  good  airdrome,  hangars, 
warehouses,  and  quarters.  Although  Rayak's  location  was  far  from 
ideal,  the  choice  was  justified.  At  the  time,  most  of  USAMEAF's  com- 
bat groups  were  stationed  in  Palestine,  with  the  57  th  even  having  a 
squadron  training  over  in  Cyprus;  moreover,  Rayak  permitted  the  use 
of  American  methods  of  supply  which  Brereton  believed  a  matter  of 
the  utmost  importance.  The  323d  Service  Group,  as  the  only  service 
unit  in  the  theater,  took  on  the  job  of  running  Rayak.  It  also  furnished 
detachments  for  unloading  at  the  ports  and  for  base  unit  and  quarter- 
master functions  at  the  heavy  bomber  airdromes.  In  fact  the  group  did 
about  every  job  except  the  one  for  which  it  was  trained,  and  per- 
formed excellently  in  all  capacities.®* 

The  American  heavy  bomber  units,  the  Brereton  and  Halverson  de- 
tachments and,  later,  the  98th  Group,  had  gone  into  action  imme- 
diately after  their  arrival  in  the  Middle  East.  Heavy  bombers  were 
scarce  and  badly  needed  in  the  struggle  against  Rommel.  With  these 
AAF  organizations,  unit  training  and  command  experience  were  ade- 
quate for  operations  against  ports  and  convoys;  as  no  long-range 
26 


CRISIS    IN    THE    MIDDLE  EAST 

fighter  escort  could  be  provided,  the  aircraft  could  be  employed  fairly 
independently  of  other  commands.  On  the  other  hand,  the  1 2th  Bom- 
bardment (M)  and  the  57th  Fighter  Groups,  entering  upon  a  highly 
cooperative  type  of  air  warfare  under  unfamiliar  desert  conditions, 
were  fed  into  existing  RAF  formations.  The  training  they  received 
and  the  accumulated  experience  made  available  to  them  contributed 
greatly  to  their  subsequent  successes. 

Elements  of  the  57th's  advance  air  echelon,  arriving  in  mid-July, 
were  trained  at  Muqeibile  and  in  actual  combat  in  RAF  formations  in 
the  Western  Desert.  The  squadrons,  which  arrived  in  mid-August, 
were  trained  in  the  back  areas,  in  Cyprus  and  at  Muqeibile;  elements  of 
the  66th,  however,  did  participate  in  the  operations  opposing  the  Axis 
smash  at  the  Alamein  line  early  in  September.  Not  until  17  September 
did  the  entire  group  assemble  at  Landing  Ground  (LG)  174  in  the 
desert.  Here  its  P-40's  served  as  an  air  force  reserve  and  saw  only  occa- 
sional action  until  well  into  October.  The  57th's  pilots  were  filtered 
into  the  three-echelon  V  formation  then  in  use  by  the  RAF,  flying 
first  top  cover,  then  support,  then  in  the  most  exposed  low-echelon 
position.  The  group  discovered  that  all  RAF  fighter  units  were  com- 
pletely mobile  and  that  their  ground  echelons  were  divided  into  A  and 
B  parties  for  the  leapfrogging  technique  used  in  the  recurrently  fluid 
desert  war.  The  57th  was  initially  short  of  the  vehicles  necessary  for 
such  mobility,  but  by  mid-September,  after  some  difficulty,  enough 
had  been  secured.^^ 

The  1 2th  Group,  based  along  the  canal,  began  under  the  tutelage  of 
RAF  and  South  African  Air  Force  (SAAF)  light  bomber  wings.  A 
month's  training  ensued,  including  five  missions  intended  to  acquaint 
the  crews  with  the  aids  to  navigation  available  in  the  Middle  East.  The 
first  of  these  missions,  night  operations  against  the  port  of  Matruh  and 
the  enemy  airdromes  at  Daba  and  Fuka,  proved  that  without  flame 
dampeners  to  black  out  the  bright  spurt  from  their  exhaust  pipes  the 
B-25's  were  easy  targets  for  A  A  and  night  fighters.  Further  difficulties 
arose  in  locating  targets  by  day  in  the  monotonous  desert.  By  the  end  of 
August,  nonetheless,  the  group  had  made  rapid  progress  and  it  con- 
tributed forty-eight  sorties  to  the  light  bomber  eflFort  at  the  time  of 
the  Axis  repulse.^^ 

The  Western  Desert  Air  Force,  to  which  USAMEAF's  fighters  and 
mediums  were  attached,  had  developed  techniques  of  air-ground  co- 
operation representing  the  first  sensible  advance  over  the  system  of 


27 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


intimate  "support"  employed  with  such  telling  effect  by  the  Luftwaffe 
in  Poland  and  France.  The  men  associated  with  these  techniques,  the 
long-term  effect  of  which  was  to  emancipate  both  the  RAF  and  the 
USAAF  from  subservience  to  ground  commanders  in  land  campaigns, 
were  Coningham,  the  AOC  Western  Desert,  and  Tedder,  top  air 
officer  in  the  Middle  East.  Coningham's  force  had  performed  magnif- 
icently in  the  disastrous  action  precipitated  by  Rommel's  May  attack 
on  the  Eighth  Army's  Gazala  position;  in  the  RAF,  Middle  East's  own 
words,  "Any  lingering  idea  that  the  R. A.F.  was  simply  a  useful  adjunct 
of  the  land  forces  . . .  was  finally  swept  away."^^ 

Brereton  quickly  grasped  the  importance  of  drawing  on  Western 
Desert  Air  Force  experience.  Ten  days  after  his  arrival  in  Cairo  he  was 
urging  the  War  Department  to  dispatch  qualified  observers  to  study 
Coningham's  employment  of  fighters  and  light  bombers;  and  on  22 
August  he  submitted  to  AAF  Headquarters  a  report  on  the  "support" 
rendered  the  Eighth  iVrmy  in  the  period  26  May  to  21  August. 

By  general  admission,  the  foundation  of  the  RAF's  success  in  cooper- 
ating with  the  army  lay  in  the  sympathy  and  understanding  normally 
existing  between  the  commander  of  Western  Desert  Air  Force  and  the 
commander  of  the  Eighth  Army.  Although  operations  against  the  Axis 
armies  proceeded,  naturally,  under  the  general  direction  of  the  ground 
arm,  the  army  and  air  commanders  maintained  a  joint  air-ground  head- 
quarters embodying  the  idea  of  coequal  striking  forces.*  There  they 
worked  towards  a  common  goal,  neither  commanding  the  other's 
forces,  yet  each  cognizant  of  the  other's  requirements.  Even  the  head- 
quarters location  ^yas  a  compromise  between  the  needs  of  the  two 
arms:  the  air  commander  had  to  be  within  ten  miles  of  the  bombers 
and  fighters  he  controlled  and  adjacent  to  a  landing  ground  for  his 
ov/n  use;  a  position  forty  to  sixty  miles  behind  the  front  was  usually 
acceptable  to  the  ground  commander.*^^ 

With  his  forces  centralized  under  his  own  control,  Coningham  had 
been  able  to  seize  and  hold  the  ascendancy  in  the  air  without  which  he 
could  not  have  efficiently  aided  the  Eighth  Army.  Under  him,  No.  2 1 1 
Group  controlled  the  fighter  squadrons,  the  basic  weapons  of  air  su- 
periority. By  use  of  an  efficient  radar  screen  the  group  directed  the 
squadrons  in  their  constant  war  with  the  enemy  fighters  and  in  their 

*  The  Brereton  report  evidently  did  not  refer  in  this  particular  to  the  situation  during 
Auchinleck's  personal  command  of  the  Eighth  Army.  Auchinleck's  headquarters  was 
separate;  Montgomery  moved  back  with  the  RAF.  (Cf .  Francis  de  Guingand,  Operation 
Victory,  p.  138.) 

28 


CRISIS    IN    THE    MIDDLE  EAST 

escorting  of  the  bombers  to  hammer  the  enemy  airdromes.  To  con- 
struct its  airdromes  2 1 1  Group  controlled  a  detachment  of  Royal  En- 
gineers; to  protect  the  fields,  it  provided  armored-car  squadrons  and 
an  antiaircraft  brigade.  Its  fighter  types  consisted  of  the  obsolescent 
Hurricane,  American-made  Tomahawks  and  Kittyhawks  (P-4oD's  and 
E's),  and  Spitfires,  the  last  considered  the  best  answer  to  the  Me- 109, 
although  the  Kittyhawk  could  handle  it  under  1 2,000  feet. 

Besides  2 1 1  Group,  WD AF  employed  light  bomber  wings  of 
Bostons  (A-2o's)  and  Baltimores  (A-30's),  whose  bombardment  oper- 
ations were  augmented  by  bomb-carrying  Hurricanes  and  Kitty- 
hawks.  The  extensive  use  of  fighter-bombers  by  the  RAF  was  itself  an 
indication  of  the  degree  of  air  superiority  it  had  achieved,  for  without 
air  superiority  the  fighters  would  have  had  enough  to  do  in  their 
normal  roles.  The  operation  of  the  Bostons  and  Baltimores  had  become 
very  skillful,  and  the  fighter  escort  kept  losses  from  enemy  intercep- 
tion to  a  minimum. 

Coningham's  coequal  status  with  the  army  commander  allowed  him 
to  exploit  to  their  mutual  advantage  the  peculiar  capabilities  of  air 
power.  His  planes  were  not  tied  down  to  ground  formations  in  "penny 
packets."  They  were  not  wasted  on  fleeting  or  unsuitable  targets  but 
were  available  for  concentrated  blows.  Since  his  force  had  been  kept 
fully  mobile,  it  could  perform  uninterruptedly,  a  matter  of  the  utmost 
importance  in  the  seesaw  desert  battle.  Communications,  however,  had 
proved  to  be  a  limiting  factor  in  air  operations,  and  there  was  always 
the  troublesome  problem  of  identification  of  friendly  troops.®*' 

In  mid-August,  when  the  British  shook  up  their  command  in  the 
Middle  East,  their  army  received  two  new  general  officers  who  were 
to  prove  as  successful  ground  commanders  as  Coningham  and  Tedder 
were  air  commanders.  Auchinleck  had  resisted  Rommel's  first  assault 
on  the  Alamein  line  but  had  used  up  his  own  reinforcements  in  at- 
tempting to  drive  his  adversary  out  of  Egypt  by  an  abortive  series  of  at- 
tacks which  he  opened  on  2 1  July.®^  The  replacements  were  Gens.  Har- 
old L.  Alexander,  who  took  over  the  theater  command,  and  Bernard  L. 
Montgomery,  who  assumed  command  of  the  Eighth  Army  after  the 
untimely  death  of  Lt.  Gen.  W.  H.  E.  Gott.  Montgomery's  influence 
was  felt  at  once.  The  Eighth's  morale  improved  with  rest,  with  better 
rations,  and  upon  the  new  commander's  making  clear  that  he  planned 
no  further  retreats,  that  the  battle  for  Egypt  would  be  fought  out 
at  Alamein. 


29 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

The  rival  forces  recuperated  during  most  of  August,  but  it  was  uni- 
versally appreciated  that  the  Axis  armies  would  mount  another  attack 
despite  their  numerical  inferiority  in  men,  tanks,  and  aircraft.  The 
Nile  was  so  close,  they  were  so  visibly  losing  the  reinforcement  race, 
and  their  commanders  were  believers  in  the  tactical  offensive.  On 
29  August  the  Axis  troops  were  informed  that  in  a  matter  of  two  or 
three  days  they  would  be  in  Alexandria,  and  just  after  midnight  of 
30/31  August  the  attack  began.  The  result  was  the  battle  of  Alam 
Haifa,  named  for  a  key  hill  in  the  British  defenses.®^ 

The  main  attack  flowed  around  the  Eighth  Army's  southern  flank, 
the  British  withdrawing  before  it  to  ground  of  their  own  choosing. 
After  the  first  day  of  the  battle  the  RAF  found  continuous  good  flying 
conditions  and  thenceforth  subjected  the  enemy  concentrations  to  an 
almost  uninterrupted  pounding.  The  Axis  intentions  were  plainly  to 
draw  the  British  armor  from  its  prepared  positions  for  a  battle  in  the 
open,  an  honor  which  the  British,  with  the  tank  trap  at  Knightsbridge 
fresh  in  their  memory,  firmly  declined.  The  enemy  accomplished 
nothing  but  the  waste  of  his  resources  in  futile  attacks.  USAMEAF 
aircraft  were  active  in  their  several  capacities.  The  heavy  bombers 
scored  a  hit  on  a  merchantman  in  a  Mediterranean  convoy  while  the 
B-25's  attacked  truck  columns  and  the  P-40's  flew  sweeps  and  escort.®^ 

On  2  September  the  enemy  exhibited  reluctance  to  resume  the  offen- 
sive. The  Eighth  Army  had  already  laid  plans  to  restore  the  Alamein 
line  and  meanwhile  had  been  carrying  out  harassing  operations  de- 
signed further  to  weaken  the  Axis  battlefield  supply  position.  On  the 
night  of  3  /4  September  the  2  New  Zealand  Division  initiated  action  to 
close  the  mine-field  gaps  through  which  the  attacking  Axis  columns 
had  driven.  The  enemy  fought  stubbornly  and,  after  pushing  him 
back  somewhat,  Montgomery  decided  to  break  off,  leaving  the  Ger- 
man-Italian forces  a  slice  of  the  British  mine  fields  for  their  trouble.^^ 

A  feature  of  the  eight-day  battle  was  the  nonstop  effort  put  forth 
by  the  RAF,  which  had  switched  its  Wellingtons  from  attacks  on 
ports  to  battlefield  bombing.  The  total  of  Allied  bombs  dropped  ran 
to  868  tons;  over  3,500  sorties  were  carried  out,  to  which  the  12th 
and  57th  Groups  contributed  48  and  "over  150,"  respectively.  Coning- 
ham's  fighters,  moreover,  finally  destroyed  the  fearsome  reputation  of 
the  Stuka,  the  Ju-87's  jettisoning  their  bombs  when  the  Allied  pursuit 
approached.  Despite  a  vastly  larger  number  of  bomber  sorties,  the 
RAF  lost  only  seven  bombers,  the  GAF  and  lAF,  twenty-six.  The  fact 


30 


CRISIS   IN   THE    MIDDLE  EAST 

that  the  RAF  lost  forty-three  fighters  to  the  enemy's  twenty-two  was 
largely  a  reflection  of  the  Hurricane's  inferiority  to  the  Me- 109  and 
the  Italian  Mc-202.®' 

Alam  Haifa,  besides  keeping  the  Axis  out  of  Alexandria,  gave  rise 
to  hopes  that  the  answer  to  Rommel's  tactics  had  at  last  been  found. 
The  British  forces  had  not  been  committed  piecemeal  nor  in  the  hither- 
to disastrous  mobile  tank  actions,  and  the  morale  of  the  troops  im- 
proved with  success.  Moreover,  Montgomery  had  exhibited  a  lively 
appreciation  of  the  role  of  air  power  in  the  land  battle.®^ 

For  the  Axis  the  supply  situation  had  continued  unsatisfactory,  par- 
ticularly in  the  category  of  petroleum  products.  Lack  of  aviation  gas 
robbed  the  enemy  of  the  full  capabilities  of  his  air  force  and,  specif- 
ically, was  thought  by  the  British  to  have  forced  a  four-day  postpone- 
ment of  his  Alam  Haifa  offensive.  Lack  of  fuel  and  lubricants  had 
slowed  hostile  tank  movements  and  forfeited  the  advantage  of  surprise. 
By  Middle  East  calculations,  100,000  gross  registered  tons  of  shipping 
made  Axis  ports  in  North  Africa  in  August  1942;  in  the  same  month 
80,000  were  sunk  by  the  efforts  of  the  USAAF,  the  RAF,  and  the 
Royal  Navy.  Of  the  80,000  tons,  40  per  cent  represented  the  handi- 
work of  the  air  forces.  The  net  cargo  tonnage  which  the  enemy  re- 
ceived enabled  him  to  improve  his  supply  situation  only  slightly;  he 
was  sustaining  but  could  not  sensibly  augment  his  forces,  despite  some 
improvement  in  September.  With  these  statistics  at  hand,  Montgomery 
was  able  to  proceed  methodically  to  develop  his  own  offensive  in  the 
comfortable  certainty  that  with  each  day  the  odds  lengthened  against 
his  adversary.*^ 

Malta,  despite  its  perennial  aviation  fuel  shortage,  had  been  able  to 
increase  its  exertions  in  the  vital  period  when  the  opposing  armies  were 
building  strength  for  further  efforts.  Its  antishipping  sorties  were 
somewhat  more  numerous  and  its  fighters  even  carried  out  some  ag- 
gressive actions.  But  the  Axis  sea  and  air  forces  in  the  area,  if  not  able 
to  knock  out  the  island,  dealt  violently  with  its  reinforcement.  From 
the  heavily  escorted  supply  convoy  which  passed  Gibraltar  eastwards 
on  the  night  of  9/10  August,  nine  merchant  vessels  were  lost  plus  the 
carrier  Eagle  and  three  other  warships.^^  The  loss  of  the  Eagle  directly 
affected  the  calculations  for  TORCH,  which  by  then  was  in  its  initial 
planning  stages.^® 

For  the  Egypt-based  bombers,  Tobruk  and  Bengasi  remained  lucra- 
tive targets,  so  vital  that  the  Middle  East  forces  even  sent  commandos 


31 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 

on  a  vain  attempt  to  block  their  harbors  on  the  night  of  13/14  Sep- 
tember. After  Alam  Haifa,  the  RAF  turned  the  full  weight  of  its 
mediums  back  on  Tobruk,  scarcely  a  night  passing  without  twenty  or 
thirty  Wellingtons  over  the  port;  and  when  on  14  October  three 
USAMEAF  B-17's  reportedly  sank  a  lighter  and  hit  a  large  motor 
vessel  in  its  harbor,  it  had  been  already  so  badly  mauled  that  Axis  ship- 
ping had  been  largely  diverted  to  Bengasi.  The  long-range  bombers 
followed.  A  feature  of  the  combined  assault  on  Bengasi,  of  which  the 
U.S.  B-24's  carried  the  brunt,  was  the  raid  of  22/23  September.  The 
B-24's  blew  up  an  8,ooo-ton  ammunition  ship  lying  alongside  one  of 
the  main  piers,  the  explosion  appreciably  reducing  the  harbor's  un- 
loading for  several  weeks.^^ 

Strikes  at  shipping  at  sea  and  in  ports  to  the  north  continued  when 
reconnaissance  picked  up  profitable  targets.  On  3  September  an  Axis 
convoy  of  three  destroyer-escorted  merchantmen  was  attacked  in  the 
Mediterranean  by  elements  of  the  Royal  Navy,  the  RAF,  and  the 
USAAF,  and  the  one  surviving  merchantman  was  left  ablaze."^^  A  few 
days  afterward,  in  Candia  harbor,  Crete,  the  98th  Group  scored  direct 
hits  on  a  power  station  and  left  fires  in  the  dock  area.'^^  The  effec- 
tiveness of  the  naval  and  air  campaign  can  be  illustrated  by  the  career 
of  thirty  tanks  which  were  loaded  for  Africa  in  three  shipments  of  ten 
each.  One  vessel  was  beached  off  Corfu,  one  was  sent  to  the  bottom, 
the  third  reached  Bengasi  only  to  be  partially  sunk  in  the  harbor.'^^  To 
reinforce  his  troops  and  maintain  his  supplies,  particularly  of  fuel,  the 
enemy  used  air  transports,  which  flew  down  by  night  from  Crete.  By 
the  end  of  October,  when  the  Alamein  battle  was  on,  this  traffic,  main- 
tained chiefly  by  Ju-52's,  had  precipitated  a  series  of  U.S.  bomber  raids 
on  Maleme  airdrome,  whence  the  transports  took  off  ."^^ 

On  the  administrative  side,  events  of  August  and  September  1942 
put  an  end  to  the  anomaly  whereby  a  large  number  of  officers  and  men 
fighting  in  the  Middle  East  remained  assigned  to  the  Tenth  Air  Force. 
The  Tenth's  new  commander,  Brig.  Gen.  Clayton  L.  Bissell,"^®  feeling 
keenly  the  loss  of  the  key  staff  officers  and  combat  crews  who  had 
gone  to  USAFIME  in  June  and  July,  pressed  for  a  clarification  of  their 
status."^®  The  upshot  was  that  Brereton  was  assigned  to  the  Middle 
East  on  16  September,  as  were  the  staff  officers  in  question.'^^  The 
Tenth  Air  Force  had  already  got  back  most  of  its  transports  and  it  was 
arranged  that  it  would  also  retrieve  the  greater  part  of  the  ground 
echelon  which  had  originally  accompanied  its  B-17's  from  India.'^® 

32 


CRISIS    IN   THE   MIDDLE  EAST 


A  development  of  some  importance  in  the  career  of  USAMEAF 
manifested  itself  administratively  on  1 2  October  when  orders  were  cut 
assigning  nine  officers  to  the  IX  Bomber  Command,  which  organiza- 
tion was  then  and  for  a  month  afterwards  unofficial.  This  command 
had  its  roots  in  a  discussion  on  5  September  between  Tedder's  senior 
air  staff  officer,  Air  Vice  Marshal  H.  E.  P.  Wigglesworth,  and  G-3 
officers  of  USAMEAF,  during  which  Wigglesworth  asserted  that  he 
had  control,  delegated  by  Tedder,  over  the  target  selection  for  the 
U.S.  heavy  bombers.  Col.  Patrick  W.  Timberlake,  G-3  of  Brereton's 
st^fF,  took  a  serious  view  of  this  assertion  in  that  it  violated  the  Arnold- 
Portal-Towers  agreement  that  American  combat  units  assigned  to 
theaters  of  British  strategic  responsibility  were  to  be  organized  in 
"homogeneous  American  formations"  under  the  "strategic  control''  of 
the  appropriate  British  commander  in  chief.  In  a  memo  of  7  September, 
Timberlake  granted  that  this  canon  might  be  justifiably  violated  in  the 
case  of  the  12th  Bombardment  (M)  and  57th  Fighter  Groups,  but  he 
could  see  no  reason  why  operational  control  of  the  ist  Provisional  and 
98th  Groups,  comprising  four-fifths  of  the  heavy  bomber  force  in  the 
Middle  East,  should  not  be  vested  in  American  hands.  Subsequent  ne- 
gotiations carried  the  point  with  the  British,  who  even  turned  over 
their  160  Squadron  (Liberators)  to  the  operational  control  of  IX 
Bomber  Command. 

On  12  October  a  small  staff  moved  into  Grey  Pillars,  RAF  head- 
quarters at  Cairo,  and  thenceforth  USAMEAF's  bombers  operated 
only  under  the  "strategic"  direction  of  the  British.  Timberlake  headed 
the  organization,  with  Kalberer  as  his  A-3  and  Lt.  Cpl.  Donald  M. 
Keiser  as  his  chief  of  staff  .^^ 

El  Alamein 

Now  the  time  was  ripening  for  the  second  British  attempt  to  eject 
Rommel  from  his  menacing  proximity  to  the  Delta,  the  first  having 
been  Auchinleck's  July  attacks.  Across  the  thirty-two-mile  neck  be- 
tween the  Qattara  Depression  and  the  sea  the  Eighth  Army  faced  Axis 
positions  which  were  naturally  stronger  than  its  own  and  which  had 
been  considerably  improved  by  three  months  and  more  of  artifice. 
Triple  belts  of  mine  fields  and  defended  localities  were  known  to 
adorn  the  northern  sector  while  the  southern  defenses,  if  not  so  formi- 
dable, were  sited  to  canalize  penetration.  No  practicable  way  offered  to 
take  this  line  in  flank  as  it  was  anchored  on  the  south  by  the  forbidding 


33 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


Qattara  quicksands.  Hard  fighting  into  heavy  defenses  would  be  nec- 
essary before  the  customary  desert  mobility  could  be  regained;  in  a 
long-drawn  battle,  however,  it  was  expected  that  the  enemy's  dis- 
advantageous supply  position  would  tell  against  him.^^ 

Montgomery's  original  conception  envisioned  strokes  against  both 
extremities  of  the  fortifications,  pushing  the  British  armored  divisions 
athwart  the  enemy  supply  line  in  the  north  and  destroying  the  enemy 
armor  in  detail.  His  final  plan  was  novel,  if  less  ambitious.  It  preserved 
the  multiple  attack  designed  to  keep  the  enemy  armor  dispersed,  but 
contemplated  as  first  priority  the  destruction  of  the  enemy  infantry 
while  the  British  armor  stood  off  the  Panzers  whose  axes  of  approach 
would  be  restricted  by  their  own  mine  fields.  The  offensive  could  not 
open  before  the  full  moon  of  24  October,  for,  if  semidarkness  was 
required  to  clear  a  path  through  the  enemy  mine  fields,  some  light  was 
necessary  for  infantry  operations.^^ 

As  early  as  21  September,  Coningham  had  outlined  the  air  force's 
role  in  the  impending  operation  to  a  meeting  of  all  group  captains  and 
wing  commanders.  Stepped-up  counter-air  force  action  would  com- 
mence 20  October  to  gain  the  high  degree  of  air  superiority  without 
which  Montgomery  would  not  move.  The  enemy  air  dislocated, 
WDAF  could  intervene  freely  in  the  ground  battle  and,  it  was  hoped, 
insure  a  certain  initial  tactical  surprise  by  denying  the  enemy  air  re- 
connaissance. The  period  preceding  20  October  was  to  be  utilized  in 
preparation— training  and  the  repair  of  vehicles  and  of  aircraft.^^ 

Various  administrative  preparations  were  also  put  in  hand  by  the 
RAF  and  USAAF.  An  advanced  American  air  headquarters  was  at- 
tached to  Advanced  Air  Headquarters,  Western  Desert,  to  gain 
experience  in  handling  air  forces  in  the  field  and  to  look  out  for  Amer- 
ican interests.^^  For  instance,  it  was  arranged  that  night  missions  by  the 
B-25's  could  not  be  flown  except  in  extreme  emergencies  without 
direct  authorization  of  the  commanding  general  of  USAMEAF  (four 
B-25's  had  been  lost  on  a  night  mission  against  Sidi  Hanaish  airdrome 
on  13/14  September)  .^^  This  American  advanced  headquarters  became 
on  22  October  the  Desert  Air  Task  Force  Headquarters,  with  Brereton 
in  direct  command  and  Adler  attached  with  the  advanced  headquarters 
of  the  service  command.  Chief  of  staff  for  the  new  organization  was 
Brig.  Gen.  Auby  C  Strickland,  commander  since  17  August  of  IX 
Fighter  Command,  who  had  arrived  in  the  Middle  East  in  July  and 
overseen  the  training  of  the  57th  Group.  The  Desert  Air  Task  Force 

34 


CRISIS    IN   THE    MIDDLE  EAST 


continued  under  that  name  until  February  1943  as  the  administrative 
control  over  the  American  units  operating  as  an  integral  part  of 
WDAF.^*^  Although  the  arrangement  did  not  conform  to  the  terms  of 
the  Arnold-Portal-Towers  agreement,  the  letter  of  that  agreement 
could  not  have  been  efficiently  applied  in  operations  with  WDAF,  as 
the  following  battle  assignments  illustrate. 

No.  2 1 1  Group,  RAF,  was  prepared  to  go  forward  with  the  ad- 
vance, and  to  its  239  Wing  (Kittyhawks)  the  57th  Group's  66th 
Squadron  was  attached.  The  66th,  regarded  as  the  best  trained  of  the 
57th's  squadrons,  all  now  ready  for  combat  as  units,  arrived  at  LG  91 
on  6  October.  The  57th's  other  squadrons  came  under  operational  con- 
trol of  2 1 2  Group,  which  had  been  set  up  to  give  WDAF  a  second 
fighter  control  formation,  and  continued  to  operate  from  LG  174  in 
conjunction  with  233  Wing,  RAF.  The  12th  Group  with  the  addition 
of  a  Baltimore  squadron  made  up  232  Wing  and  operated  under  the 
bomber  control  of  3  Wing  (SAAF).  In  the  middle  of  October  the 
1 2th's  squadrons,  reduced  for  mobility  to  essential  operational  strength, 
moved  to  LG  88,  about  fifty  miles  behind  the  front  line,  leaving 
administrative  work  to  be  done  at  the  Delta  bases.^^ 

WDAF  did  not  hesitate  to  interrupt  training  when  opportunity 
offered  for  a  blow  at  the  opposing  air  force.  Photo  reconnaissance  of 
6-8  October  revealed  that  the  Axis  forward  landing  grounds  in  the 
Daba  and  Qotaifya  areas  had  been  waterlogged  by  heavy  rains.  On  the 
9th,  therefore,  USAMEAF's  B-25's  contributed  16  sorties  to  a  292- 
sortie  attack  on  the  mudded-in  aircraft  of  which  10  were  assessed  as 
destroyed  and  22  damaged.*'^ 

Of  the  Axis  air  forces,  the  Italian  Air  Force,  despite  some  recent 
aggressiveness  with  its  Mc-202's,  was  not  assessed  as  particularly  for- 
midable; it  was  disposed  rearward  to  protect  shipping.  What  was  more, 
the  condition  of  the  Luftwaffe,  disposed  forward  and  expected  to  pro- 
vide the  main  opposition,  had  fallen  so  low  as  to  cause  concern  in 
Berlin.  Maj.  Gen.  Adolf  Galland,  General  der  Jagdflieger*  had  flown 
into  Fuka  in  September,  interviewed  Von  Waldau,  the  commander, 
and  looked  over  the  situation.  Kesselring  was  supposed  to  have  re- 
sented Galland's  inspection  and,  according  to  the  latter's  possibly  apoc- 
ryphal story,  Goering  dismissed  as  dummies  half  of  the  800  aircraft 

*  The  duties  of  this  headquarters  position  changed  from  time  to  time  and  with  the 
incumbent.  In  fighter  matters,  Galland  was  variously  adviser,  consultant,  administrator, 
inspector,  formulator  of  doctrine,  and  operational  authority. 


35 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


shov/n  to  be  on  RAF  fields.  Rommel,  not  on  good  terms  with  his  sup- 
porting air,  neglected  to  ask  for  reinforcements  until  too  late.®® 

Goering  would  have  done  better  to  have  taken  the  photos  seriously. 
On  1 6  October  the  RAF,  ME  had  a  total  of  1,098  aircraft,  of  which 
813  were  in  commission:  628  fighters,  383  bombers  of  all  types,  and 
87  sea  reconnaissance  types.  The  USAAF  could  muster  56  P-40's, 
46  B-25's,  10  B-17's,  and  53  B-24's;  of  these  were  operational,  respec- 
tively, 49,  35,  6,  and  40.  The  Axis  air  forces,  on  the  other  hand,  boasted 
only  218  Italian  and  165  German  fighters,  about  150  bombers,  75  Ital- 
ian CR-42  attack  planes,  and  smaller  numbers  of  seaplanes  and  recon- 
naissance aircraft.  Serviceability  was  estimated  at  not  over  50  per  cent 
because  of  the  severe  shortage  of  materiel  and  spare  parts.  The  Allied 
air  forces,  therefore,  enjoyed  superiority  before  the  air  offensive 
started,  for  which  they  could  thank  in  part  then:  own  efforts  against 
the  German-Italian  supply  lines.^^ 

On  19/20  October  the  preliminary  air  offensive  began.  Calls  from 
the  ground  forces  were  answered,  reconnaissance  flown,  M/T  and 
artillery  emplacements  attacked,  but  the  main  emphasis  was  put  on  the 
destruction  of  the  enemy  air  force:  patrols  were  kept  over  its  landing 
grounds  which  the  bombers  hammered  day  and  night.  At  least  800 
counterman:  force  sorties  had  been  flown  before  the  infantry  moved  to 
its  assault  positions  on  the  night  of  22/23  October,  and  as  a  result  the 
British  concentrations  were  riot  molested  from  the  air  at  a  time  when 
the  roads  were  clogged  with  their  transport.^^ 

The  Eighth  Army  commanded  such  numerical  and  logistical  supe- 
riority in  all  categories  that  it  was  appreciated  that  it  could  not  fail  to 
win  if  properly  handled  in  the  forthcoming  battle.  In  manpower,  it  had 
almost  a  2  to  I  advantage,  165,000  to  93,500,  and  if  the  quality  of  its 
troops  was  uneven  the  same  could  be  said  for  the  Axis.  Of  medium 
tanks  the  Eighth  Army  mustered  600  against  470  for  the  opposition;  of 
guns  of  all  types,  2,275  to  1,450.  The  German  troops-"i5th  and  21st 
Panzer  Divisions,  90th  Light  and  164th  Infantry  Divisions,  plus  miscel- 
laneous units— had  been  disposed  so  as  to  stiffen  the  Italian  forces, 
which  consisted,  in  the  forward  area,  of  six  infantry  and  two  armored 
divisions.  In  the  folrenodn  of  23  October,  Montgomery's  message  to 
his  troops,  "The  Lord  mighty  in  battle  will  give  us  the  victory,"  was 
read  to  all  hands  and  that  night  the  battle  got  under  way.®^ 

The  assault  troops  had  spent  the  day  of  23  October  unobserved  in 
trenches  beyond  the  British  forward  positions.  At  2140  hours  massed 

36 


CRISIS    IN   THE   MIDDLE  EAST 

artillery  opened  on  known  locations  of  enemy  batteries.  Twenty 
minutes  later  the  infantry  started  a  westward  trek  that  would  lead  it 
in  time  to  Tunisia.  In  the  important  northern  sector  where  two  cor- 
ridors were  to  be  forced  through  the  enemy  defenses,  substantial,  if 
uneven,  progress  resulted  from  the  first  two  days  of  fighting,  but  the 
British  did  not  succeed  in  pushing  their  armor  into  the  open.®^  They 
had  undertaken  elaborate  deception  measures  to  convince  the  enemy 
that  the  main  assault  would  be  in  the  southern  sector  and  this  delusion 
they  fostered  by  heavy  but  costly  attacks.  On  the  25  th,  Montgomery 
ordered  the  pressure  in  this  area  eased  to  preserve  7  Armoured  Divi- 
sion's strength;  as  the  division  pinned  down  the  21st  and  Ariete  ar- 
mored divisions  opposite,  it  was  not,  however,  withdrawn.  By  that  date 
the  British  tanks  had  got  forward  through  the  northern  gaps  and  were 
in  position  to  beat  off  and  punish  armored  counterattacks.  Behind  this 
armored  shield,  Montgomery  began  the  methodical  destruction  of  the 
enemy  infantry  and  cast  about  for  a  way  to  pass  his  tanks  through  to 
the  Rahman  area,  key  point  of  the  enemy  supply  system.  His  drive, 
however,  began  to  lose  momentum  in  the  deep  enemy  defenses,  which 
contained  in  the  north  nine,  not  three,  mine  fields,  and  on  the  26th  he 
decided  to  regroup  for  further  action.^^ 

The  hitherto  comparatively  inactive  GAF  and  lAF  apparently  chose 
the  26th  to  challenge  the  Allied  air.  In  this  endeavor  they  lost  by  RAF 
calculations  six  Me-109's,  eight  Mc-202's,  and  three  Ju-87's  against 
Allied  losses  of  four  fighters.  Moreover,  an  Axis  ground  concentration 
was  prevented  from  forming  for  attack  by  the  light-bomber  shuttle 
service  which  the  WDAF  reserved  for  worthwhile  targets  and  in 
which  the  B-25's  joined.®^  The  57th  Fighter  Group  was  showing  up 
well  in  battle:  on  the  26th  its  claims  ran  to  four  Mc-202*s,  and  reports 
credited  it  with  a  like  number  of  Me-109's  the  previous  day.  Preday- 
light  of  the  27  th  found  the  P-40's  taking  off  by  the  glare  of  truck 
headlights  for  a  surprise  dawn  fighter-bomber  raid  on  one  of  the  Fuka 
landing  grounds,  carried  out  at  minimum  altitude  to  avoid  enemy  radar 
detection,  and  later  in  the  day  a  P-40  contingent  came  off  victorious  in 
a  battle  with  assorted  CR-42's,  Ju-87's,  Mc-202's,  and  Me-109's— the 
Italian  fighter  units  involved  admitted  to  four  Mc-202's  downed.®^  The 
main  ground  action  on  the  27  th  consisted  of  sharp  attacks  on  Kidney 
Ridge  by  the  15  th  and  21st  Panzer  Divisions,  the  latter  having  come 
north  during  the  previous  night.  These  assaults  were  thrown  back, 

37 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD  WAR  II 


and  on  the  28th  the  WDAF  light  bombers  and  USAMEAF's  B-25's 
succeeded  in  preventing  preparations  for  their  resumption.^*^ 

At  this  point  Montgomery  envisioned  a  breakout  northward  to  the 
sea  and  a  push  along  the  coastal  roads  and  railway  to  cripple  the 
enemy's  supply.  Montgomery  was  now  matching  wits  with  Rommel, 
who  had  been  in  Berlin  when  the  battle  opened.  That  the  Axis  com- 
mand no  longer  credited  the  feints  in  the  southern  sector  had  been 
demonstrated  by  the  transfer  of  the  21st  Panzer  on  the  night  of  26/27 
October;  accordingly,  Montgomery  moved  his  7  Armoured  north  to 
promote  designs  of  his  own.  On  28-29  October  he  attacked  with  9 
Australian  Division,  aiming  to  pinch  off  the  coastal  salient  formed  by 
earlier  British  gains  in  the  north.®^  During  the  renewal  of  this  attack 
on  the  30th  occurred  one  of  the  finest  examples  of  tactical  air  force 
action  in  the  whole  campaign.  The  Australians  were  attempting  to 
push  their  wedge  to  the  coast.  The  air  force  shouldered  the  responsi- 
bility of  preventing  sizable  counterattacks  from  Thompson's  Post, 
within  the  enemy  pocket  to  the  east.  Despite  a  bomb  line  that  shifted 
constantly  in  an  extremely  restricted  (nine-mile  square)  area,  over  300 
sorties  were  laid  on,  no  sizable  counterattacks  developed,  and  none  of 
the  95  tons  of  bombs  fell  on  friendly  troops.^® 

Rommel  sensed  that  the  Eighth  Army  now  meant  to  concentrate  on 
the  coastal  sector.  He  brought  the  weight  of  his  German  formations  to 
bear,  and  fierce  fighting  resulted  from  his  attempts  to  extricate  the 
defenders  of  Thompson's  Post.  When  on  the  morning  of  29  October 
Montgomery  learned  that  the  famous  90th  Light  had  moved  into  the 
Rahman  area,  he  realized  that  the  enemy  had  fathomed  his  intentions 
and  so  he  changed  his  plans  for  the  last  time— for  a  drive  against  the 
Italians  farther  south  which  would  break  his  10  Corps  (armored)  into 
the  open.®® 

The  decisive  phase  of  El  Alamein  then  ensued.  While  Australian  pres- 
sure on  Thompson's  Post  evoked  furious  counterattacks,  2  New  Zealand 
Division  moved  forward  at  0100  hours  on  2  November  and  cleared 
a  new  path  across  the  Axis  mine  fields  through  which  9  Armoured 
Brigade  had  passed  by  first  light.  Although  the  brigade  was  subse- 
quently severely  punished  by  an  antitank  screen,  i  Armoured  Division 
also  came  through  and  gave  as  good  as  it  got  in  a  savage  tank  battle 
near  Tel  el  Aqqaqir.  Behind  the  antitank  screen  the  crumbling  Axis 
forces  began  to  withdraw  along  the  coastal  road.  On  the  night  of  3  /4 
November  the  infantry  (including  4  Indian  Division)  turned  the  anti- 

38 


CRISIS   IN   THE    MIDDLE  EAST 

tank  screen  and  let  the  British  armor  loose.  El  Alamein  was  over.^^^  The 
air  force  was  already  scourging  the  traffic  on  the  coastal  road,  over  400 
sorties  being  delivered  on  the  jd/^^ 

Montgomery  hoped  to  cut  off  and  destroy  Rommel  at  Fuka  or 
Matruh.  On  the  4th  the  rear  guard  stood  briefly  at  Ghazal;  by  then  the 
landing  grounds  east  of  Fuka  were  reported  vacant.  On  the  5th  there 
was  a  brief  stand  at  Fuka  escarpment,  terminated  after  a  short,  sharp 
engagement.  At  this  point,  on  the  7th,  the  rains  characteristic  of  the 
season  cheated  Montgomery  of  his  opportunity,  immobilizing  his 
armor's  supporting  M/T  in  the  desert  and  miring  WDAF  on  the 
newly  occupied  Daba  landing  grounds,  on  one  of  which  A  party  of 
the  57th  Group  had  already  arrived.  In  the  southern  sector  of  the 
former  Alamein  line  the  air  forces  were  dropping  food  and  water  to 
groups  of  prisoners  which  the  Eighth  Army  had  not  had  time  to  round 
up.  Four  Italian  divisions  had  been  entirely  abandoned  by  the 
Germans.^^^ 

IX  Bomber  Command  had  not  been  inactive  during  the  stubborn 
land  battle.  Besides  its  raids  on  Maleme,  it  combined  with  RAF  Liber- 
ators and  Beauforts  to  sink  a  tanker  and  a  merchantman  just  off 
Tobruk  harbor  on  the  night  of  25/26  October;  these  were  the  Terges- 
tia  and  the  Proserpina,  which  the  Italians  subsequently  admitted  were 
lost  on  this  occasion.  It  sent  five  B-17's  over  Tobruk  on  2  November 
to  score  hits  on  two  medium-sized  merchant  vessels  and  start  fires  in 
harbor  installations  which  were  seen  blazing  two  days  later.  Reflecting 
the  rapid  advance  of  the  army,  after  6  November  no  more  USAAF 
heavy  bombers  went  to  Tobruk;  Bengasi,  and  then  Tripoli,  became 
the  principal  targets.^^^ 

While  Rommel  was  being  cleared  out  of  Egypt,  the  nomenclature  of 
the  American  air  forces  in  the  Middle  East  was  at  last  regularized.  On 
8  November,  Lt.  Gen.  Frank  M.  Andrews  took  over  the  USAFIME 
command;  an  airman  fresh  from  the  Caribbean,  where  he  had  intro- 
duced a  type  of  air  force  organization  widely  adopted  by  the  overseas 
air  forces,  he  was  a  logical  choice  to  succeed  Maxwell.  On  12  No- 
vember, by  general  order,  he  established  the  Ninth  Air  Force.  On  the 
same  day,  accordingly,  Brereton  was  able  to  activate  Headquarters 
Squadron,  Ninth  Air  Force,  and  IX  Air  Service  Command.  IX  Bomber 
Command  was  finally  set  up  on  27  November,  utilizing  the  Head- 
quarters and  Headquarters  Squadron  of  the  19th  Bombardment 


39 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 

Wing  which  had  sailed  into  Port  Tewfik  on  the  Mauretania  on 
12  November.^*^^ 

As  all  things  are  added  to  the  victors,  the  Middle  East's  strategic  ob- 
jectives, which  Brereton  had  stated  back  in  August,  grew  suddenly 
nearer  accomplishment  with  the  flight  of  the  Axis  armies.  On  1 5  No- 
vember the  Martuba  airfields,  beyond  Tobruk  and  Gazala,  were  in  the 
Eighth  Army's  hands,  in  time  to  cover  a  convoy  which  sailed  next 
evening  out  of  Port  Said  for  Maltai  No  merchant  vessels  were  lost  on 
the  passage.  By  then,  IX  Bomber  Command's  heavies  had  moved  their 
bases  from  Palestine  to  the  Delta;  and  on  the  night  of  2 1  November, 
staging  out  of  Gambut,  they  raided  Tripoli.  Moreover,  on  8  No- 
vember, TORCH  had  materialized  on  the  beaches  of  Northwest 
Africa.^*^^ 


40 


CHAPTER  2 


TORCH  AND  THE  TWELFTH 
AIR  FORCE 

WORLD  WAR  II  was  to  see  larger  operations  than  the 
Anglo-American  invasion  of  Northwest  Africa,  but  none 
surpassed  it  in  complexity,  in  daring— and  the  prominence 
of  hazard  involved— or  in  the  degree  of  strategic  surprise  achieved.  The 
most  important  attribute  of  TORCH,  however,  is  the  most  obvious.  It 
was  the  first  fruit  of  the  combined  strategy.  Once  it  had  been  under- 
taken, other  great  operations  followed  as  its  corollaries;  competing 
strategies  receded  or  went  into  abeyance  until  its  course  had  been  run. 
In  short,  the  TORCH  operation,  and  the  lessons  learned  in  Africa, 
imposed  a  pattern  on  the  war. 

America's  military  interest  in  Northwest  Africa,  as  indeed  its  appre- 
ciation of  the  menacing  trend  of  the  European  war,  goes  back  to  the 
collapse  of  the  Allied  armies  in  France  and  the  Low  Countries  in  the 
summer  of  1940.  The  Germans  adopted  the  ingenious  plan  of  splitting 
France  into  two  parts,  allowing  the  more  southerly  to  be  governed  by 
the  aged  Marshal  Petain  at  Vichy.  The  degree  of  independence  exer- 
cised by  Petain  was  a  moot  question,  but  there  was  never  any  hin- 
drance to  the  assumption  of  full  control  of  France  by  the  Germans, 
oiice  they  chose  such  a  course. 

North  Africa,  with  those  portions  of  the  French  Empire  not  declar- 
ing for  De  Gaulle,  assumed  a  politico-military  complexion  similar  to 
that  of  unoccupied  France;  and  like  Syria,  Madagascar,  and  Indo- 
China,  it  eventually  became  a  vacuum  into  which  one  or  the  other 
active  military  force  would  flow  when  circumstances  proved  suitable. 
Agents  of  both  sides  abounded  in  the  area.  The  Axis,  by  the  terms  of 
the  armistice  with  France,  had  left  the  Vichy  French  with  African 


41 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORCES    IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

forces  considerable  enough  to  maintain  their  ascendancy  against  in- 
ternal revolt  and  to  discourage  a  British  invader;  it  kept  a  German- 
Italian  armistice  commission  in  North  Africa.  An  Axis  incursion  in  one 
form  or  another  was  appreciated  as  a  constant  possibility. 

The  strategic  implications  of  the  situation  were  important.  To  the 
United  States,  at  uneasy  peace,  Nazi  occupation  of  Vichy  Africa 
would  mean  a  threat  to  the  Western  Hemisphere  from  Dakar.  For 
Great  Britain  it  would  mean  the  certain  interdiction  of  the  sea  route 
through  the  Mediterranean,  exposure  of  the  sea  route  around  Africa  to 
attacks  by  U-boat  and  bomber,  and  a  threat  to  the  fledgling  air  route 
across  central  Africa  to  the  Middle  East.  British  or  American  opera- 
tions in  Northwest  Africa  were,  therefore,  in  the  first  Instance  defen- 
sive, with  the  purpose  of  blocking  the  extension  of  Axis  forces. 

Genesis  aiid  Develop?nent  of  TORCH 

By  August  1 94 1  the  United  States  had  developed  the  Joint  plan 
JPB-BLACK^  against  the  possibility  of  having  to  seize  Dakar.  Follow- 
ing Pearl  Harbor,  with  the  arrival  of  Churchill  and  his  military  and  naval 
advisers,  the  so-called  ARCADIA  conference  (23  December-14  Jan- 
uary) was  convened  in  Washington  to  refurbish  and  implement  Anglo- 
American  war  plans.  At  this  conference  was  presented  GYMNAST,  a 
plan  which  had  been  under  study  in  the  United  States  for  some  months, 
involving  a  landing  at  Casablanca.  The  British,  for  their  part,  had  previ- 
ously explored  the  feasibility  of  a  landing  on  the  Mediterranean  coast 
of  French  Africa.  These  plans  were  combined  as  SUPER-GYMNAST, 
usually  spoken  of  as  simply  GYMNAST.  By  1 3  January  1 942  the  Com- 
bined Chiefs  of  Staff  (CCS)  had  agreed  that  GYMNAST  was  the 
project  of  first  strategic  importance  in  the  Atlantic  area,^  consonant 
with  that  part  of  the  combined  basic  strategy  which  aimed  to  close  and 
tighten  the  ring  around  Germany— a  ring  drawn  from  Archangel  along 
the  western  coasts  of  Europe  and  the  northern  seaboard  of  the  Medi- 
terranean to  Anatolia  and  the  Black  Sea.^ 

GYMNAST  envisaged  putting  into  French  North  Africa  approx- 
imately 180,000  Allied  troops,  about  equally  divided  between  British 
and  Americans.  The  Americans  were  to  enter  through  Casablanca  and 
the  British  either  through  Oran  or  Algiers,  the  plans  changing  some- 
what in  the  latter  regard.^  From  the  lodgments  in  Morocco  and  Algeria, 
Allied  control  was  to  be  extended  over  North  Africa  with  an  eye  to 
the  destruction  of  Rommel's  forces,  which  were  currently  engaged 

42 


TORCH    AND   THE   TWELFTH    AIR  FORCE 

in  the  ''accordion  war"  with  the  British,  consisting  of  drive  and  counter- 
drive  between  Agheila,  at  the  entrance  to  Tripolitania,  and  Gazala, 
beyond  the  Cyrenaican  hump.** 

GYMNAST  offered  the  following  advantages:  providing  a  counter- 
move  to  a  German  entry  into  Spain;  sealing  off  and  neutralizing  Dakar, 
thus  accomplishing  the  principal  objective  of  JPB-BLACK;  forestalling 
Axis  occupation  of  French  North  Africa;  opening  the  Mediterranean 
to  a  limited  degree;  securing  bases  for  land  and  air  operations  against 
Italy  and  for  air  attack  on  Germany  if  longer-range  bombers  became 
available.®  The  paucity  of  Allied  shipping,  however,  effectively  crippled 
GYMNAST:  first,  by  limiting  the  size  of  the  planned  force  and  thereby 
forcing  the  planners  to  gamble;  finally,  by  causing  the  enterprise  to  be 
altogether  abandoned. 

Because  the  Allies  together  could  not  transport  in  the  initial  con- 
voys more  than  24,000  men  to  Africa  ( 1 3  January  figures)  /  the  opera- 
tion had  to  be  based  on  assumptions  which  were  none  too  secure. 
Twenty-four  thousand  men  could  not  break  into  French  North  Africa; 
therefore,  the  initial  nonresistance  and  subsequent  wholehearted  co- 
operation of  the  French  were  essential.  In  fact,  a  French  invitation  was 
considered  the  sine  qua  non  of  GYMNAST,  although  the  weight  of 
British  and  American  military  opinion  and  of  British  civil  opinion  was 
extremely  skeptical  of  the  possibility  of  receiving  a  trustworthy  invita- 
tion. Equally  equivocal  were  the  other  major  assumptions:  (i)  that 
Spanish  resistance  to  a  German  incursion  into  Spain  would  delay  for 
three  months  a  German  attack  from  Spain  against  Morocco;  (2)  that 
in  case  of  a  German  invasion  of  Spain  the  garrisons  in  Spanish  Morocco 
would  admit  the  Allies.  Moreover,  if  the  line  of  communications 
through  Gibraltar  were  cut,  and  it  was  anticipated  that  it  would  be, 
the  Allied  forces  within  the  Mediterranean  would  have  to  be  supplied 
and  reinforced  wholly  through  Casablanca  and  thence  overland.  In 
view  of  the  limitations  of  Casablanca's  port  and  the  shortage  of  naval 
escort,  it  was  estimated  late  in  February  that  it  would  take  six  or  seven 
months  to  land  the  entire  force.® 

A  few  of  the  other  factors  that  plagued  GYMNAST  may  be  men- 
tioned. It  was  not  considered  possible  for  an  Allied  army,  beaten  in 
Morocco  and  Algeria,  upon  its  withdrawal  to  assault  Dakar  with 
any  prospect  of  success.^  Moreover,  the  expected  early  denial  of  the 
naval  base  at  Gibraltar  made  possession  of  the  Canaries  essential,  but 
if  the  Spanish  did  not  acquiesce  in  their  occupation,  the  Allies  could 


43 


TORCH   AND   THE   TWELFTH   AIR  FORCE 

not  immediately  find  the  means  to  take  the  islands  by  force.^^  The 
GYMNAST  commanders,  who  included  at  various  times  Lt.  Gen. 
Joseph  W,  Stilwell  and  Maj.  Gen.  Lloyd  Fredendall  for  the  Americans 
and  General  Alexander  for  the  British,  had  also  to  wrestle  with  the 
problem  of  combating  the  German  and  Italian  air  reaction  with  their 
own  limited  land-based  aviation.^^ 

Whatever  the  possibilities  offered  by  GYMNAST,  by  late  February 
1942  it  was  recognized  that  the  operation  could  not  in  any  case  be 
mounted,  as  a  goodly  part  of  the  required  shipping  was  far  away  in 
the  Pacific.^^  On  3  March  the  Combined  Staff  Planners  termed  planning 
for  GYMNAST  an  "academic  study"  and  recommended  that  no  forces 
be  held  in  readiness  for  a  North  African  expedition,^® 

By  mid- April  1942,  America  and  Great  Britain  had  turned  to  and 
apparently  agreed  on  a  firm  strategy  for  the  extinction  of  the  European 
Axis:  cross-Channel  invasion  following  a  preparatory  day-and-night 
air  offensive  *  Target  date  for  ROUNDUP,  the  full-scale  adventure, 
was  set  for  spring  1943,  but  provision  existed  for  a  lesser  attack  in  the 
fall  of  1942.  The  latter,  designated  SLEDGEHAMMER,  was  intended 
either  to  exploit  a  German  setback  or  to  ease  German  pressure  on  the 
Soviet  front.  The  American  forces  needed  to  accomplish  this  cross- 
Channel  strategy  were  set  in  motion  towards  the  United  Kingdom 
under  a  build-up  plan  coded  BOLERO.** 

The  BOLERO-SLEDGEHAMMER-ROUNDUP  strategy  was  at 
bottom  an  American  conception,  passionately  cleaved  to  by  the  Joint 
Chiefs  of  Staff,  which  envisioned  operating  with  overwhelming  force 
against  the  European  Axis  in  the  logistically  most-favored  area.  The 
major  strategic  decisions  of  June  and  July  1942  represented  the  pro- 
gressive attrition  and  final  eclipse  of  that  strategy,  principally  by  the 
hard  fortunes  of  war  in  Libya  and  the  U.S.S.R.  together  with  the 
shortage  of  landing  craft— to  some  degree  by  the  British  distaste  for 
continental  landings.  The  BOLERO  concentration  plan  withstood  the 
examination  which  resulted  from  Churchill's  Washington  visit  in  June, 
but  a  slightly  different  view  was  taken  of  its  virtues.  It  was  stressed 
that  BOLERO  was  flexible  enough  to  provide  against  any  develop- 
ments on  the  controlling  eastern  front:  if  the  U.S.S.R.  collapsed,  Eng- 
land, the  next  threatened  area,  was  reinforced;  if  the  U.S.S.R.  con- 
tinued in  the  war,  large-scale  operations  on  the  continent  were  possible 
out  of  the  English  concentration.  Nor  did  it  preclude  the  undertaking 
of  GYMNAST  or  minor  operations  against  the  continent,^*^ 

•  See  Vol.  I,  chap.  16. 

45 


THE   ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


This  reaffirmation  of  the  soundness  of  the  BOLERO  plan  was  ac- 
cepted by  the  Combined  Chiefs  on  20  June.  In  the  same  paper,  the 
GYMNAST  operation,  revived  in  Allied  thinking  by  the  prospect  of 
encountering  on  the  western  front  the  major  part  of  a  Wehrmacht 
victorious  in  the  east,  was  condemned  because  it  depended  upon  un- 
certain political  reactions  and,  opening  a  new  front,  it  would  spread 
the  already  strained  Allied  resources.^®  Pursuant  to  a  White  House 
conference  on  the  21st,  however,  it  was  directed  that  careful  study 
be  given  to  GYMNAST  as  an  alternative  to  continental  operations.^^ 
Marshall  nevertheless  commented  on  29  June  that  the  only  diversions 
from  BOLERO  conceded  in  the  June  conferences  were  the  Amer- 
ican reinforcements  to  the  Middle  East,  which  amounted  after  all  to 
speeding  air  reinforcements  already  contemplated.^® 

The  feasibility  of  SLEDGEHAMMER,  which  by  then  had  become 
a  "sacrifice  play"  to  aid  the  sorely  beset  Russians,  was  called  in  question 
by  Churchill  on  8  July.^^  The  British  had  pointed  out  in  June  that  the 
shortage  of  landing  craft  would  limit  to  six  divisions  the  initial  force 
to  be  thrown  on  the  continent;  it  was  not  thought  that  this  would 
materially  ease  the  pressure  on  the  eastern  front.  The  Americans,  on 
the  other  hand,  convinced  that  the  collapse  of  the  U.S.S.R.  was  the 
worst  of  all  possible  catastrophes  threatening  the  United  Nations  at 
the  moment,  were  inclined  to  assume  risks.  On  17  July,  Marshall, 
King,  and  Harry  Hopkins,  among  others,  arrived  in  the  United  King- 
dom to  press  the  case  for  SLEDGEHAMMER.^**  On  22  July  came  the 
final  British  refusal,  and  two  days  later  GYMNAST  was  in  effect 
rehabilitated  by  the  Combined  Chiefs.^^ 

The  arrangements  reached  on  24  July  were  not  altogether  final. 
Matters  stood  as  follows:  the  plan  for  ROUNDUP,  the  1943  conti- 
nental invasion,  was  to  be  pushed  so  long  as  there  existed  a  reason- 
able chance  of  its  successful  execution  before  July  1943;  if  by 
15  September  1942,  Soviet  deterioration  made  ROUNDUP  imprac- 
ticable, GYMNAST  should  be  launched  before  i  December  1942.^^ 
It  was  soon  agreed,  however,  that  the  urgency  of  mounting  TORCH, 
as  GYMNAST  had  been  renamed,  before  i  December  would  not 
permit  a  delay  until  1 5  September,  when  the  outcome  of  the  German 
campaign  in  the  east  supposedly  would  be  apparent.  At  the  Com- 
bined Chiefs'  meeting  on  30  July  in  Washington,  Admiral  Leahy  stated 
that  in  his  opinion  the  President  and  the  Prime  Minister  had  already 
cast  the  die  for  TORCH.^^  That  evening  at  the  White  House,  pre- 

46 


TORCH    AND    THE    TWELFTH    AIR  FORCE 

sumably  on  being  put  the  question  by  Leahy,  the  President  stated  very 
positively  that  he,  as  commander  in  chief,  had  made  the  decision  in 
favor  of  the  African  expedition.^*  Since  the  Prime  Minister  was  a 
known  partisan  of  Mediterranean  operations,  30  July  may  be  taken 
as  the  date  when  TORCH  was  definitely  on.  It  may  also  be  taken 
as  the  date  on  which  large-scale  cross-Channel  operations  were  "in 
all  probability"— to  use  the  Combined  Chiefs'  phrasing— put  off 
until  1944.^^ 

In  the  few  days  during  which  ROUNDUP  and  TORCH  were,  on 
paper,  alternatives,  the  latter  had  taken  form  rapidly.  By  25  July  the 
CCS  had  approved  the  command  setup;  to  lessen  French  resistance 
TORCH  was  to  have  an  American  complexion,  headed  by  an  Amer- 
ican commander  with  American  troops  as  the  first  wave  of  the  assault. 
Planning  for  the  landings  in  Morocco  was  to  be  done  in  Washington, 
while  London  was  to  prepare  the  Mediterranean  assaults.^^  By  the  26th, 
Eisenhower,  as  commanding  general  of  the  European  Theater  of  Oper- 
ations, was  definitely  slated  for  the  post  of  TORCH  commander.  Un- 
fortunately, most  of  August  was  to  be  taken  up  by  what  he  called 
a  "transatlantic  essay  contest"  as  to  the  nature  and  even  the  feasibility 
of  TORCH.27 

The  transatlantic  essay  contest  was  occasioned  by  a  shortage  of  naval 
escorts,  combat  loaders,  and  aircraft  carriers  which  threatened  to  re- 
duce the  striking  forces  that  could  be  carried  to  Africa.  The  planners 
were  forced  then  to  consider  the  abandonment  of  one  or  another  of  the 
projected  landings  and  found  that  with  TORCH,  unfortunately, 
abandoning  any  of  the  landings  jeopardized  the  strategic  success  of 
the  whole  operation. 

Eisenhower,  who  had  commenced  planning  late  in  July,  began  on 
the  theory  of  practically  simultaneous  assaults  at  Casablanca,  at  Oran, 
and  in  the  region  of  Algiers;  on  10  August  he  submitted  informally 
to  the  British  chiefs  of  staff  a  draft  outline  of  TORCH  agreeable  to 
this  conception.^®  Moreover,  this  general  scheme  was  theoretically 
made  binding  by  the  CCS  directive  for  TORCH,  dated  13  August,^^ 
which  required  landings  in  the  neighborhood  of  the  three  named  ports 
and  as  far  as  practicable  up  the  Algerian  coast  towards  Tunis.  At  this 
juncture,  however,  the  British  and  American  navies  insisted  that  it 
was  impossible  to  escort  convoys  for  operations  within  the  Mediter- 
ranean and  without  (Casablanca)  at  the  same  time.  Consequently, 
Eisenhower  was  compelled  to  shift  his  calculations.  The  securing  of 


47 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


Casablanca  was  left  to  a  force  backtracking  overland  from  seized  Oran. 
When  word  of  this  reached  Marshall,  he  was  disturbed  enough  to  ask 
Eisenhower,  on  15  August,  for  his  completely  frank  estimate  of  the 
probable  success  of  the  operation;  and  when  the  Norfolk  Group  Plan, 
named  for  Eisenhower's  planners  at  Norfolk  House,  reached  Wash- 
ington for  presentation  to  the  CCS,  the  central  dilemma  of  TORCH 
received  a  thorough  airing/'*^ 

The  Norfolk  Group  Plan,  in  brief,  differed  from  the  CCS  direc- 
tive by  omitting  any  landings  on  the  Atlantic  coast  of  French  Morocco. 
Simultaneous  predawn  assaults  were  outlined  at  Oran,  Algiers,  and 
Bone,  but  of  the  thirteen  divisions  to  be  employed  seven  (American) 
were  allotted  to  the  tasks  of  cutting  across  to  Casablanca  and,  subse- 
quently, preparing  for  an  attack  on  Spanish  Morocco,  should  Spain 
find  herself  in  the  Axis  camp.  To  provide  additional  insurance  for  the 
vital  line  of  communications  (LOC)  through  the  Strait  of  Gibraltar, 
the  plan  indicated  that  studies  were  in  progress  for  a  further  thrust 
at  Spanish  Morocco  from  the  sea,  to  be  mounted  from  England,  if 
action  were  required  before  the  Oran  forces  could  consolidate  on  the 
landward  side. 

In  light  of  later  developments,  there  is  interesting  reasoning  in 
the  letter  Eisenhower  wrote  under  date  of  23  August  to  explain  the 
work  of  his  planners.^^  He  stated  frankly  that  although  he  believed 
the  Norfolk  Group  Plan  made  the  best  possible  use  of  the  resources 
available  to  him  he  did  not  believe  those  resources,  however  used, 
were  sufficiently  powerful  to  accomplish  the  tasks  set  forth  by  the 
CCS.  If  the  French  military,  reported  friendly  to  the  Allies  at  Algiers 
and  Bone  but  hostile  in  Tunisia  and  at  Oran,  resisted  in  determined 
fashion,  there  was  little  hope  of  gaining  Tunisia  overland  ahead  of 
the  Axis  forces— which  once  in  Tunisia  could  be  built  up  more  rapidly 
than  Allied  armies.  (After  the  fate  of  the  August  Malta  convoy,  it 
was  appreciated  that  no  assault  convoy  could  sail  directly  for  Bizerte 
or  Tunis  in  the  teeth  of  the  Axis  air  forces  in  Sardinia  and  Sicily.)  If 
the  Spaniards  moved  against  TORCH,  an  eventuality  particularly 
likely  if  they  were  advised  beforehand  of  the  operation,^^  they  could 
cut  the  LOC  through  Gibraltar  and  knock  out  the  latter's  naval  base 
and  airdrome.  The  Gibraltar  airdrome,  which  was  to  be  relied  on 
heavily  as  a  springboard  from  which  land-based  Allied  fighters  could 
be  quickly  passed  into  captured  African  fields,  was  at  the  mercy  of 
emplaced  Spanish  artillery. 

48 


TORCH    AND   THE   TWELFTH   AIR  FORCE 


Personally,  Eisenhower  believed  that  if  the  two  governments  could 
find  the  resources  a  vigorous  assault  at  Casablanca  would  greatly  in- 
crease the  chances  of  success.^^  As  a  demonstration  of  Allied  power 
it  would  lessen  the  hazard  of  French  resistance  and  Spanish  inter- 
vention, more  quickly  establish  an  auxiliary  land  LOG,  and  aid  in 
Allied  deployment  to  thwart  a  German  surge  through  Spain  against 
the  vital  strait. 

Whereupon,  the  two  governments  and  their  military  staffs  began 
the  task  of  cutting  the  suit  to  fit  the  cloth.  The  U.S.  chiefs  of  staff  ini- 
tially contended  that  if  any  landings  were  to  be  scrapped  they  should 
be  those  east  of  the  Oran  region,  not  those  around  Casablanca.  The 
British  chiefs,  on  the  other  hand,  asserted  that  such  an  alteration 
would  almost  certainly  deliver  Tunisia  to  the  Axis,  and  Tunisia  was 
the  key  to  Rommel's  supplies.  The  British  were  particularly  uneasy 
about  the  notorious  weather  of  the  Atlantic  coast  of  Morocco,  where, 
it  was  predicted,  on  four  days  out  of  five  the  surf  would  make  am- 
phibious operations  impossible.  Their  readiness  to  forego  the  Casa- 
blanca landing  indicated  that  they  were  willing  to  accept  the  risk  as 
to  whether  Spain  would  remain  neutral  and  defend  her  neutrality.  The 
American  chiefs  of  staff  took  no  such  optimistic  view,  insisting  that 
the  line  of  communications  be  made  secure  by  an  Allied  thrust  at 
Casablanca. 

The  controversy  lasted  into  the  first  week  of  September  and  was 
finally  settled  after  the  intervention  of  the  two  chiefs  of  state,  both 
eager  that  TORCH  be  undertaken.  According  to  one  account,  Roose- 
velt was  willing  to  dispense  with  British  assistance,  except  for  RAF 
and  Royal  Navy  contingents,  and  indorsed  the  capture  of  Casablanca 
and  Oran  with  an  "All-American"  team,  so  anxious  were  he  and 
Marshall  that  American  troops  gain  combat  experience  in  1942.  By 
6  September  the  TORCH  design  had  hardened.  A  few  days  later 
Eisenhower  and  his  chief  of  staff  were  puzzling  over  another  question— 
this  one  of  an  enigmatic  quality:  what  was  to  be  the  Anglo-American 
strategy  after  TORCH?^^ 

The  TORCH  outline  plan  appeared  on  20  September.^^  It  was 
identical  in  salient  points  with  the  CCS  directive  of  13  August  and 
preserved  the  old  GYMNAST  conception  whereby  British  forces 
predominated  east  of  Oran  and  American  in  the  western  Algerian 
and  Moroccan  operations.  Three  task  forces  were  initially  to  descend 
on  French  North  Africa— D-day,  8  November.  The  Eastern  Assault 

49 


THE  ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


Force,  mixed  British  and  American  and  staging  out  of  England,  was 
to  take  Algiers,  whereupon  the  British  First  Army  would  be  brought 
in  to  secure  Tunisia  and  operate  eastward  against  Rommel.  American 
troops  of  the  Center  (Oran)  Task  Force,  also  sailing  from  England, 
and  the  Western  (Casablanca)  Task  Force,  sailing  from  the  United 
States,  were  to  link  after  the  attainment  of  their  initial  objectives  and 
prepare,  as  the  Fifth  Army,^^  for  a  possible  thrust  into  Spanish 
Morocco.  A  feature  of  the  Norfolk  Group  Plan  was  preserved  by  the 
organization  in  England  of  a  Northern  Task  Force  with  the  mission 
of  attacking  the  Tangier-Ceuta  area  before  D  plus  60,  should  action 
be  required  before  the  Western  and  Center  task  forces  could  be 
readied.^^  The  organization  of  this  force  was  begun  by  General  Eisen- 
hower in  late  October;^®  on  4  November  the  CCS  approved  the 
plans,^**  and  under  the  code  name  BACKBONE  the  project  was  active 
until  6  February  1943/^ 

All  things  considered,  the  TORCH  operation  was  the  purest  gamble 
America  and  Britain  undertook  during  the  war,  largely  because  success 
depended  so  greatly  on  political  rather  than  military  assumptions.  In 
this  connection,  security  transcended  its  ordinary  importance,  for  its 
breach  threatened  to  convert  into  active  enemies  substantial  forces  in 
Spain  and  Africa  which  might  acquiesce  if  surprised.  No  certainty 
would  exist  that  the  secret  had  been  kept  before  TORCH  had  been 
irrevocably  committed;  no  preliminary  bombardment  would  soften 
the  African  beaches;  the  risk  of  trap  or  ambush  was  considerable.  No 
one  could  guarantee,  in  view  of  the  special  hazards  of  the  coast  of 
Morocco,  that  the  important  Western  Task  Force  would  hit  the 
beaches  within  a  fortnight  after  the  Algerian  landings  had  taken  place; 
elaborate  alternate  plans  had  to  be  prepared  for  that  armada.^^  TORCH, 
unlike  GYMNAST,  was  prepared  to  fight  its  way  ashore,  yet  it  could 
not  afford  prolonged  French  resistance  if  it  was  to  keep  its  date  with 
Tunis  and  Bizerte.  Probably  the  greatest  weakness  of  the  plan,  how- 
ever, was  that  it  faced  both  east  and  west,  Spanish  Morocco  and  Tunisia. 
That  weakness  had  cost  three  weeks  of  precious  time  in  the  planning 
days  of  August;  later,  some  thought  it  cost  Tunisia.^^ 

Organization  of  the  Tivelfth  Air  Force 

It  had  been  obvious  from  the  outset  that  the  preponderance  of 
American  strength  for  the  invasion  of  North  Africa  had  to  be  found 
from  resources  previously  allotted  to  the  general  purpose  of  cross- 

50 


TORCH    AND   THE    TWELFTH    AIR  FORCE 

Channel  invasion.  In  terms  of  air  force  deployment,  this  meant  that 
Maj.  Gen.  Carl  Spaatz'  Eighth  Air  Force,  then  preparing  to  test  the 
American  doctrine  of  high-altitude,  precision  daylight  bombing  from 
the  United  Kingdom,*  would  furnish  the  core  of  the  air  striking  force 
for  TORCH.^^  The  Eighth  began  by  furnishing  the  commander.  Gen- 
eral Doolittle  had  been  assigned,  after  his  Tokyo  raid,  to  ready  the 
4th  Bombardment  Wing  (M)  for  service  with  the  Eighth;  on  30  July, 
Marshall  and  Arnold  agreed  that  he  would  head  the  USAAF  con- 
tingent for  TORCH,  subject  to  the  approval  of  Eisenhower  and 
Spaatz.  Their  approval  being  forthcoming,  Doolittle  arrived  in  Eng- 
land on  6  August  to  take  up  his  considerable  task/* 

The  Eighth  not  only  held  the  principal  AAF  resources  at  hand  for 
service  in  Africa  but  its  personnel,  albeit  in  August  1942  with  almost 
no  combat  experience,  were  the  most  highly  trained  available.  Eisen- 
hower, after  conferences  with  Doolittle  and  Spaatz,  built  his  plan 
around  that  fact;  on  1 3  August  he  announced  that  he  meant  to  build 
the  TORCH  air  force  around  a  nucleus  taken  from  the  Eighth  with 
additional  units  dravni  directly  from  the  United  States.^^  Utilization 
of  Eighth  Air  Force  heavies  and  fighters  would  capitalize  on  the 
superior  training  of  their  crews.  Medium  and  light  bomber  units 
previously  scheduled  for  the  Eighth  would  proceed  to  England  for 
indoctrination,  processing,  and  most  important,  initiation  into  combat; 
moreover,  the  Eighth  would  be  able  to  furnish  experienced  personnel 
for  key  positions  in  the  fighter,  bomber,  and  service  commands. 

The  initial  combat  force  comprised  two  heavy  bombardment  groups, 
two  P-38  and  two  Spitfire  fighter  groups,  one  light  and  three  medium 
bombardment  groups,  and  one  troop  carrier  group.  The  plan  was  sound 
and  appeared  workable,  but  as  it  happened  it  presumed  too  much  on 
the  readiness  of  the  medium  and  light  groups;  furthermore,  because  of 
weather  and  the  haste  of  mounting  TORCH  even  some  of  the  Eighth 
Air  Force  groups  already  in  England  in  August  did  not  get  the  amount 
of  combat  experience  which  might  have  been  reasonably  expected  in 
the  interval  before  the  African  campaign  began.*® 

The  impact  of  TORCH  on  USAAF  resources  was  revealed  when 
the  Plans  Division  of  the  Air  Staff  reviewed  the  possibilities  of  furnish- 
ing the  units  required  to  complete  the  air  task  force,  which  units  Eisen- 
hower desired  in  England  by  15  September.*'^  The  heavy  bombard- 
ment and  fighter  groups,  already  in  the  United  Kingdom,  presented  no 

•  See  Vol,  I,  chaps.  17  and  18. 

51 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 

problem,  but  the  equipment  of  the  medium  and  light  bombardment 
groups  was  far  from  complete,  and  headquarters  units  for  fighter, 
bomber,  and  service  commands  would  have  to  be  furnished  by  those 
in  training  for  the  Ninth  Air  Force.  Similarly,  the  complement  of 
signal  companies  (aviation)  and  signal  construction  battalions  could 
be  made  up  only  at  the  price  of  diversions  from  the  South  Pacific. 
The  assistant  chief  of  Air  Staff,  Plans  emphasized  that  the  satisfaction 
of  Eisenhower's  requirements  entailed  the  utilization  of  partially 
trained  personnel  in  many  categories.  The  mid-September  deadline 
could  in  no  case  be  met.*^ 

The  plan  meanwhile  went  forward  in  England  where,  by  i8  August, 
the  Eighth  had  been  charged  with  the  organization,  training,  and 
planning  of  the  new  air  force,  whose  code  name,  appropriately  enough, 
became  JUNIOR;  Doolittle,  for  the  time  being  in  the  capacity  of  a 
staff  officer  of  the  Eighth,  became  directly  responsible  to  Spaatz  for 
these  functions.  Headquarters  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force  and  its  bomber, 
fighter,  and  service  commands  were  each  to  sponsor  the  creation  of 
a  corresponding  organization  for  JUNIOR.^^  Most  of  the  Twelfth's 
commands,  however,  were  activated  in  the  United  States,  from  units 
previously  designated  for  Brereton,  and  then  shipped  to  England. 
Headquarters  and  Headquarters  Squadron,  Twelfth  Air  Force,  came 
into  existence  at  Boiling  Field,  D.C.,  on  zo  August.  XII  Fighter  Com- 
mand was  activated  at  Drew  Field,  Florida,  on  the  24th  and  XII  Air 
Force  Service  Command  at  MacDill  Field,  Florida,  two  days  later. 
All  three  organizations  were  rushed  across  on  the  Queen  Mary^  which 
sailed  from  New  York  on  5  September,  and  were  attached  to  their 
opposite  numbers  in  the  Eighth.  XII  Bomber  Command  was  activated 
at  Camp  Lynn,  High  Wycombe,  on  2  September  by  order  of  General 
Spaatz,  its  personnel  being  drawn  from  VIII  Bomber  Command  and, 
later,  from  4th  Bombardment  Wing,^^ 

On  8  September,  Spaatz  announced  to  his  staff  that  JUNIOR  would 
soon  be  organized  as  a  proper  air  force.  Thereafter  the  Twelfth  took 
shape  rapidly,  receiving  its  initial  assignment  of  tactical  and  service 
units  from  the  Eighth  four  days  later.^^  On  the  23  d,  Doolittle  assumed 
command  and  announced  Col.  Hoyt  S.  Vandenberg  as  his  chief  of 
staff.  Definite  assignments  to  the  subordinate  comniands  followed  on 
the  27th:  Col.  Claude  E.  Duncan  to  XII  Bomber  Command,  Col 
Thomas  W.  Blackburn  to  XII  Fighter  Command,  and  Brig.  Gen. 
Delmar  Dunton  to  XII  AFSC®' 


52 


TORCH    AND   THE    TWELFTH    AIR  FORCE 

The  air  force  requirements  which  Eisenhower  had  oudlned  on 
13  August^^  were  evidently  predicated  on  the  Norfoik  Group  Plan^^^ 
which  omitted  the  assault  on  Casablanca,  for  on  i  September,  Doolittle, 
once  more  in  Washington,  met  with  Arnold  and  they  proceeded  to 
initiate  the  organization  of  a  second  U.S.  air  task  force,  which  would 
cooperate  with  General  Patton's  troops  striking  at  the  west  coast  port. 
What  was  planned  was  in  effect  another  full-scale  air  force  with 
bomber  and  fighter  wings  instead  of  bomber  and  fighter  commands.^^ 
Although  it  was  afterwards  reduced,  its  paper  strength  was  initially 
as  great  as  that  of  the  Twelfth  Air  Force  proper,**®  which  was  designed 
to  function  in  an  equivalent  role  at  the  Oran  landings. 

After  his  meeting  with  Arnold,  Doolittle  radioed  Vandenberg  that 
he  was  staying  in  the  States  until  the  new  organization  got  under  way. 
XII  Ground-Air  Support  Command  was  activated  from  the  former 
headquarters  and  staff  of  III  Ground- Air  Support  Command  on  1 7  Sep- 
tember; its  name  was  shortened  to  XII  Air  Support  Command  ( ASC)  * 
by  redesignation  on  i  October.  By  then  Brig.  Gen.  John  K.  Cannon 
had  succeeded  CoL  Rosenham  Beam  as  its  commander.^^  Of  necessity 
the  command  was  very  hastily  organized,  though  only  a  httle  more  so 
than  had  been  TORCH  itself,  and  one  mistake  occurred  in  the  tardy 
provision  of  a  service  command  detachment.  Not  until  4  October  was 
the  Detachment,  XII  Air  Force  Service  Command,  activated,  of  which 
Col.  Harold  A.  Bartron  became  head.^*^ 

The  TORCH  air  plan,  issued  20  September,  reflected  the  central 
weakness  of  the  entire  operation.  Although  Eisenhower  had  a  naval 
commander— Admiral  Cunningham,  with  a  briUiant  record  in  the 
Middle  East— and  had  wanted  an  air  force  commander,  Allied  Force 
ended  with  two  separate  air  commands.  These  commands  were  sep- 
arate as  to  nationality,  tasks,  and  areas  of  responsibility  and  opera- 
tions, corresponding  in  general  to  the  projected  division  of  the  ground 
forces  into  the  American  Fifth  and  the  British  First  Armies.  They 
were  directly  responsible  to  Eisenhower,  whose  staff  included  an  as- 
sistant and  deputy  assistant  chief  of  staff  for  air.  Air  Cdre.  A.  P.  M. 
Sanders  and  Brig.  Gen.  Howard  A.  Craig,  to  ''coordinate"  air  plan- 
ning. With  Allied  Force  Headquarters,  or  AFHQ  as  it  was  gen- 
erally known,  then,  lay  the  responsibilities  of  reinforcing  one 
command  from  another  as  need  arose  and  of  insuring  centralized 
direction  of  the  air  procection  for  convoys.  Whatever  ensued,  the 

•  Not  to  be  confused  with  Air  Service  Command. 


53 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

naval  commander  could  not  be  expected  to  negotiate  separately  with 
each  air  command/^'^ 

The  British  components  of  the  TORCH  air  force  comprised  the 
Eastern  Air  Command  (EAC)  under  Air  Marshal  Sir  William  Welsh. 
Welsh  drew  the  definite  assignment  of  cooperating  with  the  Eastern 
Assault  Force  and  the  Eastern  Task  Force  (First  Army)  in  the  seizure 
of  Algiers  and  the  subsequent  advance  to  Tunis  and  beyond.  His 
fighters  were  responsible  for  the  air  defense  of  the  Mediterranean  coast 
line  eastward  from  Cap  Tenes,  loo  miles  west  of  EAC's  prospective 
headquarters  at  Algiers,  and  he  was  vested  with  the  task  of  making 
arrangements  for  land-based  air  cooperation  with  the  navies.  Welsh 
was  also  the  middleman  for  Eisenhower's  relations  with  the  RAF  out- 
side North  Africa— with  the  Air  Ministry  and  the  AOC-in-C  Middle 
East.  If  urgent  help  from  Malta  were  required,  it  was  further  provided 
that  AFHQ,  through  Welsh,  could  communicate  directly  with  RAF, 
Malta,  simultaneously  notifying  the  Middle  East.  Such  arrangements 
were  part  of  the  generally  loose  integration  of  the  Allied  Force  in 
Northwest  Africa  with  the  Middle  East  command.®** 

Doolittle's  Twelfth  Air  Force  was  almost  three  times  as  large  as  the 
Eastern  Air  Command  (1,244  to  454  aircraft)/'^  Its  role,  after  the 
assault  phase,  was  by  no  means  as  clear,  Spaatz  being  constrained  to 
remark  to  Doolittle  on  30  October  that  he  had  never  understood  "what, 
when,  and  where"  the  Twelfth  was  to  do,^^  Should  the  Western  and 
Center  task  forces  move  on  Spanish  Morocco,  the  Twelfth  would  sup- 
port their  operations.**^  Should  BACKBONE  land  near  Tangier,  the 
Twelfth  was  in  support.**^  Should  the  Germans  begin  penetration  of 
Spain,  the  Twelfth's  B-17's— based  at  the  Gran  airdromes— would  strike 
the  peninsula.^^  Plans  had,  of  course,  been  laid  to  move  the  Twelfth 
eastward  for  operations  against  Rommel  or  for  an  air  offensive  against 
Italy,  but  such  a  movement  had  to  wait  on  the  clearing  of  Tunisia 
and,  to  some  extent,  on  the  clarification  of  Allied  strategy.^® 

During  the  assault  phase  of  TORCH,  Doolittle  was  to  remain 
with  Eisenhower  at  the  command  post  in  the  tunnels  of  Gibraltar  while 
his  Air  Corps  units  at  Oran  functioned  under  his  A- 3,  Col.  Lauris 
Norstad,  and  the  XII  Air  Support  Command  operated  at  Casablanca 
under  Cannon,  both  directly  responsible  to  the  ground  commanders 
of  the  respective  task  forces.  Doolittle  would  subsequently  establish 
his  headquarters  at  Oran  and  take  over  command,  first,  of  Norstad's 
force,  then  of  XII  ASC,  and  await  Eisenhower  s  directive  for  the 


54 


TORCH    AND   THE    TWELFTH    AIR  FORCE 

further  employment  of  the  Twelfth.  The  actual  landings  in  Africa 
were  to  proceed,  in  the  first  instance,  with  the  support  of  carrier- 
borne  naval  aviation  until  the  capture  of  airdromes  permitted  opera- 
tions by  the  Eastern  Air  Command  and  the  Twelfth.®^ 

Not  only  was  a  great  weight  of  Allied  air  power  to  be  brought 
to  bear  in  the  actions  against  the  three  ports— to  give  the  French  de- 
fenders the  impression  of  force  majeure  under  which  they  could 
honorably  lay  down  their  arms— but  AFHQ  hoped  afterward  to  meet 
enemy  air  reaction  on  a  strength  basis  of  two  to  one.  Nevertheless,  the 
rate  of  build-up  was  subject,  during  the  early  days  when  the  heavy 
losses  were  to  be  expected,  to  well-defined  limitations.  First  of  all, 
airdromes  had  to  be  captured,  and  the  total  French  African  airdrome 
resources  were  far  from  adequate.  If  Gibraltar  were  subjected  to  heavy 
and  persistent  Axis  air  attack,  great  execution  could  be  wrought  among 
the  short-range  Spitfires  and  Hurricanes  being  erected  there  for  flight 
to  the  theater.  The  employment  of  all  types  of  aircraft,  whether  mov- 
ing to  Africa  by  ship  or  under  their  own  power,  was  limited,  of  course, 
in  the  logistical  situation  by  what  supplies  could  be  brought  in  the  early 
convoys,  unloaded  at  possibly  damaged  ports,  and  transported  over 
the  limited  African  road  and  rail  network.  The  Eastern  Air  Com- 
mand faced  a  nice  problem  in  this  regard:  it  had  to  be  heavy  with 
motor  transport  to  insure  its  mobility  in  the  dash  for  Tunis,  but  the 
bulky  motor  transport  cut  into  the  number  of  squadrons  which  could 
be  employed— precisely  in  the  region  where  the  heaviest  Axis  air 
reaction,  from  Sardinia  and  Sicily,  could  be  expected.®® 

Tied  in  with  the  vast  TORCH  design  were  the  RAF  home  com- 
mands and  the  Eighth  Air  Force.  Specifically  the  Eighth  was  directed 
to  strike  the  submarine  pens  on  the  Biscay  coast,  with  the  object  of 
easing  the  passage  of  the  TORCH  convoys,  and  with  a  vigorous  air 
offensive  to  pin  the  GAF  in  northwest  Europe.^®  Air  reinforcement 
of  Africa  was  always  possible  out  of  either  United  Kingdom  or 
Middle  East  resources,  the  limitation  here  being  whether  Eisenhower, 
with  his  straitened  maintenance,  could  profitably  utilize  additional 
squadrons.'^  He  had  stated,  however,  that  if  necessary  to  the  success 
of  his  enterprise  he  would  use  the  whole  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force  in 
TORCH,"  and  two  of  the  Eighth's  heavy  groups  (91st  and  303d) 
were  earmarked  for  service  in  Africa;  as  well,  the  P-38's  of  the  78th 
Group  were  to  be  held  in  England  as  a  general  fighter  reserve.''^^ 

The  tactical  plans  for  the  landings  assigned  the  Twelfth  Air  Force 

55 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


important  roles  at  both  Oran  and  Casablanca.  The  original  arrange- 
ments for  Oran  called  for  the  dropping  of  parachutists  by  the  6oth 
Troop  Carrier  Group  at  the  two  most  important  airdromes  in  the 
vicinity— at  La  Senia  to  destroy  the  French  aircraft  concentrated  there 
and  at  Tafaraoui  to  hold  its  paved  runway  until  relieved  by  troops  from 
beachheads  east  and  west  of  the  city.  With  Tafaraoui  in  American 
hands,  USAAF  Spitfires  waiting  at  Gibraltar  were  to  fly  in  upon  call 
from  the  Oran  air  task  force  commander  on  board  the  Center  Task 
Force  headquarters  ship.*^^ 

Air  Corps  troops  arriving  in  the  Oran  region  on  D-day  and  in  sub- 
sequent convoys  were  to  prepare  for  the  reception  of  additional  units 
flying  in  from  England.  Detailed  schedules  were  drawn  up  for  air- 
craft movement  but  were  not  in  the  end  adhered  to— because  of  lack 
of  readiness  in  the  case  of  some  units  and  on  account  of  tactical  con- 
siderations with  others.'^*  According  to  plans  of  4  October,  prior  to  the 
time  they  would  be  consolidated  with  the  Morocco-based  XII  Air 
Support  Command,  the  units  flown  into  the  Oran  area  would  comprise 
up  to  four  fighter  groups  under  XII  Fighter  Command  and  up  to  one 
light,  two  medium,  and  four  heavy  bombing  groups  under  XII  Bomber 
Command/*^  AFHQ  indicated  that  once  the  French  in  Morocco  had 
been  subdued,  the  Oran  area  might  expect  additional  fighter  reinforce- 
ments from  XII  ASC,  in  view  of  the  greater  likelihood  of  GAF  or 
lAF  reaction  on  the  northern  coast.  The  heavy  bombers  were  to  be 
based  in  the  Oran  area  on  the  theory  that  they  could  be  used  against 
either  Spain  or  Tunisia.''®  The  plans,  however,  which  underwent  the 
many  inevitable  changes,  at  one  time  indicated  that  two  heavy  groups 
might  also  go  to  General  Cannon.'^'^ 

The  use  of  paratroops  constituted  a  vital  part  of  Allied  Force's  ar- 
rangements for  prompt  seizure  of  Algeria  and  the  subsequent  dash  to 
Tunisia,  and  two  of  the  three  groups  in  Col.  Paul  L.  Williams'  51st 
Troop  Carrier  Wing  were  assigned  for  lift.  The  60th,  charged  with 
the  operations  at  Oran,  was  organized  on  12  September  with  Col. 
Edson  D.  Raff's  2d  Battalion,  503d  U.S.  Parachute  Infantry,  into  the 
Paratroop  Task  Force  under  Col.  William  C.  Bentley,  Jr.,  familiar 
with  the  African  area  by  reason  of  his  former  post  of  military  and  air 
attache  at  Tangier.  Jump-off  points  for  the  operation  had  to  be  as 
close  as  possible  to  the  objective,  for  a  trip  of  over  1,200  miles  was 
in  prospect:  the  fields  at  St.  Eval  and  Predannack  in  Cornwall  were 
chosen  on  this  account.  The  Paratroop  Task  Force  arranged  to  home 

56 


TORCH    AND   THE   TWELFTH    AIR  FORCE 

on  Royal  Navy  warships  in  the  assault  fleet  and  on  a  radio  which  an 
American  operative  was  to  smuggle  ashore/® 

The  64th  Group  was  to  furnish  lift  for  400  men— two  parachute 
company  groups  of  the  British  3  Paratroop  Battalion—the  plan  evi- 
dently being  to  fly  them  into  Algiers  after  its  capture  and  then  jump 
them  at  points  farther  east.  The  planes  and  passengers  were  to  be  as- 
sembled at  Hum  in  Cornwall  for  a  D-day  take-offj®  Patton  had 
asked  that  paratroops  from  England  also  be  used  in  his  operations  in 
French  Morocco,  against  the  Rabat  airfield  and  later,  as  his  assault  plans 
changed,  against  the  Port  Lyautey  airfield,  but  Eisenhower  rejected 
his  plea  for  various  reasons,  among  which  was  the  fact  that  a  definite 
day  for  the  Moroccan  landings  could  not  be  set.  The  enterprise  was 
abandoned  early  in  October.®^ 

The  employment  of  Colonel  Bentley's  Paratroop  Task  Force  under- 
went a  change  after  Maj.  Gen.  Mark  W.  Clark's  famous  submarine  visit 
to  Africa  in  the  third  week  of  October,  during  which  Brig.  Gen.  Charles 
Mast  and  other  pro-Allied  Frenchmen  assured  Clark  and  Robert 
Murphy  that  American  troop  carrier  aircraft  could  land  unopposed 
at  Oran  airdromes  and  that  French  forces  in  the  Bone  area  would  offer 
no  resistance.  As  these  assurances  offered  the  attractive  opportunity 
of  a  rapid  Allied  movement  toward  the  east,  AFHQ  prepared  to  exploit 
the  situation.  Alternate  plans  were  drawn:  *  Var"  plan  which  assumed 
French  resistance  and  provided  for  a  night  drop  at  H-hour,  D-day,  to 
capture  the  airdromes;  and  "peace"  plan  by  which  the  planes  were  to 
be  welcomed  at  La  Senia  during  daylight  on  D-day  and  be  immediately 
available  for  operations  eastward.  On  D  minus  i,  Eisenhower  would 
communicate  from  Gibraltar  the  decision  as  to  which  plan  was  to 
be  used." 

Back  in  July,  Sir  Charles  Portal  had  remarked  that  the  projected 
Casablanca  landings  might  be  assisted  from  Gibraltar,  where,  as  he  put 
it,  the  presence  of  British  aircraft  would  raise  less  suspicion  of  "im- 
pending operations  in  the  neighborhood."®^  It  was  determined  in 
September  that  220  fighters— 130  AAF  Spits  and  90  RAF  Spits  and 
Hurricanes— could  be  erected,  tested,  and  passed  through  to  captured 
African  airdromes  by  D  plus  2,  and  the  D-day  arrangements  provided 
that  they  could  be  sent  to  Oran,  Algiers,  or  Casablanca,  the  decision, 
again,  to  be  made  by  AFHQ  in  accordance  with  the  tactical  situation. 
To  service  any  Spitfires  which  might  be  dispatched  to  the  Western 
Task  Force  area,  sixteen  mechanics  from  the  U.S.  3  ist  Fighter  Group 


57 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

were  sent  to  the  United  States  from  England  and  subsequently  sailed 
back  across  the  Atlantic  with  Patton's  force.  The  ground  echelons  of 
the  3 1  St  and  5  2d  U.S.  Spitfire  groups  were  to  come  in  with  the  Oran 
convoy.  All  the  pilots,  USAAF  and  RAF,  left  Glasgow  on  the  same 
boat  and  debarked  at  Gibraltar  on  the  night  of  5/6  November.^^ 

USAAF  participation  in  the  assault  on  the  Casablanca  area  hinged 
largely  on  the  seizure  of  the  Port  Lyautey  airdrome,  to  which  the 
P-40's  of  the  33d  Group  would  be  flown  after  being  catapulted  from 
an  auxihary  aircraft  carrier  accompanying  the  assault  convoy.  Air 
Corps  troops  of  XII  Air  Support  Command,  coming  in  with  the  ground 
forces  on  D-day,  would  act  in  the  first  instance  as  assault  troops  and, 
as  additional  airdromes  were  captured,  prepare  them  for  operation 
and  the  reception  of  additional  units;  as  many  as  three  fighter  groups, 
two  medium  bombardment  groups,  and  one  of  light  bombardment 
might  arrive.^'*  The  Port  Lyautey  field,  with  its  hard-surfaced  run- 
ways, ranked  as  the  most  valuable  by  far  in  the  area.  It  constituted 
the  main  objective  of  subtask  force  GOALPOST,  landing  at  the 
mouth  of  the  shallow,  winding  Sebou  River.  Not  without  difficulty, 
the  authorities  at  Newport  News  finally  provided  a  vessel  drawing 
little  enough  water  to  negotiate  the  Sebou  with  a  cargo  of  gasoline, 
oil,  and  bombs  for  the  Port  Lyautey  field;  the  Contessa,  an  old  5 ,500-ton 
fruit  boat.^^ 

It  had  taken  a  decision  by  the  CCS  (19  September)  to  assign  the 
33d  Group  to  the  Twelfth  Air  Force,*  and  other  hurdles  had  to  be 
surmounted  before  the  group  finally  sailed  for  Africa.  The  U.S.  Navy 
was  suffering  from  a  shortage  of  carriers  for  its  own  role  in  the  Casa- 
blanca assault  and  begrudged  the  use  of  a  flattop  for  fighters  whose 
employment  might  be  frustrated  if  GOALPOST  encountered  diffi- 
culty ashore.  Polite  doubts  were  voiced  as  to  whether  P-4oF's  could 
stand  the  strain  of  catapulting.  The  Navy,  however,  cooperated  by 
training  Army  pilots  at  the  naval  aircraft  factory  at  Philadelphia  and 
assigned  the  Chenango  to  carry  the  group  to  Africa.®^  As  advance 
replacements  for  the  33  d,  thirty-five  planes  and  pilots  sailed  in  the 
British  auxiliary  carrier  Archer  on  the  first  follow-up  convoy  to 
Morocco.®'^ 

The  Twelfth  Air  Force,  on  the  eve  of  its  commitment  to  TORCH, 
was  a  very  unevenly  trained  command,  especially  in  regard  to  signal 
units,  as  Doolittle  pointed  out  in  a  progress  report  to  Eisenhower  on 

*  See  above,  p.  25. 

58 


TORCH    AND   THE    TWELFTH    AIR  FORCE 

4  October  (later,  on  21  December,  he  estimated  that  "at  least''  75  per 
cent  of  his  air  force's  personnel  had  been  either  untrained  or  partially 
trained).  Allowances  were  made  for  this  fact  in  the  plans.  Doolittle 
meant  to  commit  his  best-trained  combat  units  first  and  continue 
operational  training  in  the  theater;  moreover,  the  TORCH  air  plans 
provided  against  an  anticipated  greater  rate  of  aircraft  wastage  for 
the  American  flyers.^®  In  point  of  training  and  experience  the  Twelfth's 
combat  units  could  be  divided  into  rough  categories:  those  Eighth 
Air  Force  units  which  had  already  arrived  in  England  before  being 
assigned  to  the  Twelfth;  those  units  intended  for  the  Eighth  but  di- 
verted to  TORCH  before  arrival  in  the  theater;  and  those  specifically 
activated  for  TORCH  or  assigned  to  it  in  the  United  States. 

In  the  first  category  lay  a  number  of  units  which  bore  the  brunt 
of  the  early  air  fighting  in  North  Africa:  the  97th  and  301st  Bom- 
bardment Groups  (H);  the  31st  and  5 2d  (Spitfires)  and  ist  and  14th 
(P-38's)  Fighter  Groups;  and  the  15th  Bombardment  Squadron  (L). 
The  heavy  groups  were  the  pioneers  of  daylight  precision  bombing 
in  the  European  theater  and  had  run  a  goodly  number  of  missions  be- 
fore they  began  packing  up  for  TORCH.^®  Of  the  Spitfire  groups, 
only  the  31st  had  had  significant  combat  experience,  notably  on  the 
Dieppe  raid  in  August;  however,  both  had  trained  with  the  RAF.®** 
One  of  the  ist  Group's  squadrons  had  been  stationed  for  a  time  in 
Iceland,  but  despite  the  best  efforts  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force,  egged  on 
by  impatient  communications  from  Arnold,  it  had  been  impossible 
to  introduce  the  P-38  to  combat.  On  the  eve  of  TORCH,  except  for 
tests  against  a  captured  FW-190,  there  was  no  indication  of  how  the 
P-38  would  stand  up  to  the  Luftwaffe.®^  The  15th  had  been  sent  to 
England  with  the  intention  of  converting  it  to  a  night  fighter  squadron. 
When  the  plan  was  abandoned,  its  DB-7's  began  operating  as  light 
bombardment  under  the  aegis  of  VIII  Bomber  Command  and  had 
several  missions  against  occupied  Europe  to  their  credit.^^ 

The  difficulties  in  readying  the  medium  and  the  rest  of  the  light 
bombardment  for  TORCH  proved  considerably  greater  than  had  been 
anticipated,  even  by  the  gloomy  initial  estimate  AC/AS,  Plans  had 
prepared  in  August.®^  It  was  intended  that  the  original  four  groups- 
three  medium  and  one  light— fly  to  England  across  the  North  Atlantic 
ferry  route,  Presque  Isle,  Goose  Bay,  BLUIE  (Greenland),  and 
Reykjavik.  Those  echelons  which  got  off  during  September  or  early 
October  negotiated  the  route  without  great  trouble;  thereafter  weather 


59 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 


marooned  increasing  numbers  of  aircraft.  The  310th  Group  (B-25's) 
managed  fairly  well,  but  the  319th  Group,  which  had  been  unduly- 
delayed  waiting  for  its  B-26's  at  Baer  Field,  Indiana,  and  the  47th  Group 
(A-2o's)  left  planes  and  equipment  strewn  all  along  the  route  and 
experienced  some  casualties.  Under  these  circumstances  the  "training 
and  initiation  into  combat"  from  England  mentioned  by  the  August 
plans  was  impossible.  The  northern  route  was  finally  closed  to  twin- 
engine  aircraft  and  the  remaining  mediums  allocated  to  the  Twelfth— 
the  17th  and  320th  (B-26's)  and  the  321st  (B-25's)— eventually  came 
by  way  of  the  southern  ferry  route.**^ 

Ill  fortune  also  dogged  the  P-39  components  of  the  Twelfth— two 
squadrons  of  the  68th  Observation  Group  and  the  8ist  and  350th 
Fighter  Groups.  Their  aircraft,  diverted  from  a  Soviet  consignment, 
were  of  the  P-39D-1  and  P-400  vintage,  types  currently  proving  in- 
ferior against  the  Japanese  in  the  Solomons.  VIII  Air  Force  Service 
Command,  without  spare  parts  or  mechanics  familiar  therewith,  lagged 
far  behind  the  schedule  for  their  erection  and  modification,  and  pilot 
training  was  hence  foreshortened.  Moreover,  when  the  comparatively 
short-range  P-39's  began  moving  to  TORCH  in  December  and  Janu- 
ary, a  large  number  were  grounded,  chiefly  in  Portugal,  by  reason  of 
contrary  winds  and  mechanical  failure  and  were  interned.^^  The  suc- 
cessive difficulties  encountered  in  the  training  and  preparation  of  its 
medium  and  P-39  squadrons  help  to  explain  why  several  months  passed 
before  the  Twelfth  was  able  to  deploy  in  Africa  anything  resembling 
its  assigned  strength.  It  was  planned  that  most  of  the  TORCH  aircraft 
would  proceed  to  Africa  from  England  under  their  own  power.  Be- 
cause of  the  magnitude  of  the  fly-out  and  the  fact  that  USAAF  and 
RAF  participation  would  make  a  coordinated  program  necessary,  over- 
all plans  were  set  forth  by  AFHQ  late  in  October.  The  movement  was 
based  on  a  group  of  airdromes  in  southwest  England  under  control  of 
44  Group,  RAF.«« 

The  Theater  Air  Force 
The  rehabilitation  in  London  in  July  1942  of  the  GYMNAST  con- 
ception was  not  at  the  insistence  of  American  strategists.  Marshall  had 
distrusted  the  African  operation;  Eisenhower,  who  was  charged  with 
carrying  it  out,  reportedly  considered  22  July,  when  SLEDGE- 
HAMMER had  been  scuttled  and  the  British  made  the  proposals  which 
resulted  in  TORCH,  as  a  candidate  for  "the  blackest  day  in  history."®^ 

60 


TORCH    AND   THE   TWELFTH    AIR  FORCE 

Adm.  Ernest  J.  King  worried  over  the  effect  on  the  Pacific  war  of 
TORCH'S  requirements  in  shipping,  escorts,  and  carriers.^*  For  a 
number  of  reasons,  the  USAAF  shared  this  general  lack  of  enthusiasm. 

In  the  first  place,  although  the  strategic  air  offensive  against  Germany, 
which  the  AAF  regarded  as  its  main  European  objective,  was  not  a 
project  strictly  contingent  upon  the  BOLERO-ROUNDUP  strategy, 
as  U.S.  Navy  sources  later  alleged,*®  it  had  enjoyed  an  unimpeach- 
able status  so  long  as  ROUNDUP  remained  the  No.  i  Anglo-Amer- 
ican effort.  When  TORCH  was  erected,  formally,  into  an  alternative 
to  ROUNDUP  on  24  July,  the  Eighth  fell  from  the  first  priority  posi- 
tion among  the  air  forces;  its  heavy  and  medium  units  were  designated 
as  "available"  for  TORCH,  and  fifteen  combat  groups  formerly 
destined  for  England  were  diverted  to  the  Pacific.^^^  Potentially  more 
ominous  was  the  fact  that  U.S.  Navy  quarters  began  to  hail  the  eclipse 
of  ROUNDUP  as  implying  a  more  thoroughgoing  shift  in  strategy— 
towards  an  offensive  against  Japan.^^^  In  these  circumstances,  the  con- 
temporaneous CCS  assurance  that  resources  would  be  made  available  to 
the  RAF  and  the  USAAF  for  a  "constantly  increasing  intensity  of  air 
attack"^^^  on  Germany  left  something  to  be  desired. 

If  TORCH  had  certain  deficiencies  from  the  point  of  view  of 
over-all  AAF  strategy,  it  was  nevertheless  preferable  to  any  reorienta- 
tion of  Allied  strategy  towards  the  Pacific  or  to  any  diversion  of  AAF 
units  thereto;  for  with  TORCH,  AAF  units  at  least  moved,  geograph- 
ically, in  the  right  direction,  and  since  there  was  no  predetermined 
Allied  strategy  for  the  post-TORCH  period,^®^  any  suitable  air  re- 
sources which  could  be  got  to  the  European  theater  might  in  the  end 
find  their  way  into  the  air  offensive  against  Germany.  TORCH  was, 
after  all,  an  approved  operation,  entitled  to  the  best  efforts  of  all  the 
services;  it  was  not  long  before  USAAF  headquarters  at  Washington 
perceived  that  the  overriding  priority  accorded  the  African  venture 
logically  extended  to  organizations  in  general  support  of  TORCH, 
i.e.,  the  Eighth  Air  Force— and  that  by  embracing  the  lesser  evil  the 
greater  might  be  mitigated. 

Thus,  when  on  20  August,  Admiral  King  called  for  the  air  units 
promised  by  the  CCS  at  London— which  units  the  admiral  planned  to 
use  in  the  Pacific— General  Arnold  countered  with  a  memorandum 
setting  forth  the  superior  claims  of  Africa.^^^  Warning  that  to  disperse 
air  resources  meant  wasting  them,  he  stated  that  TORCH,  combined 
of  course  with  a  bombing  offensive  out  of  England,  alone  of  the  pend- 

61 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

ing  Allied  operations  gave  promise  of  decisive  results.  In  his  opinion, 
as  the  first  Anglo-American  offensive  and  an  extremely  hazardous  one, 
it  should  be  supported  with  all  available  resources;  instead,  he  found 
that  insufficient  air  forces  had  been  assigned.  The  aircraft  strength 
assigned  to  TORCH  was  not  adequate  for  any  of  its  phases:  the  land- 
ings, the  conquest  of  the  area,  or  the  subsequent  bomber  effort  from 
African  bases,  which  Arnold  felt  to  be  necessary  if  the  operation  was 
to  be  exploited  as  a  genuine  offensive.  His  policy  of  building  a  formi- 
dable air  force  for  Africa  evidently  bore  fruit  within  a  fortnight, 
when,  with  Doolittle,  he  organized  XII  Air  Support  Command. 

By  the  end  of  August,  the  Eighth  Air  Force  was  preparing  the 
Twelfth  as  a  matter  of  first  priority  and  clearly  getting  more  and 
more  involved  in  TORCH.^^^  Spaatz  successfully  protested  Eisen- 
hower's orders  that  the  Eighth,  better  to  help  with  the  African  prepara- 
tions, cease  operations  entirely,^*^®  but  he  realized  that  the  endeavor 
to  reopen  the  Mediterranean  might  ''suck  in"  his  whole  combat  estab- 
lishment.^^'^  Eisenhower  was  backing  Spaatz'  requests  for  greater 
strength,  but  primarily  on  the  ground  that  the  Eighth  could  both 
furnish  convenient  short-term  reinforcements  for  Africa  and  con- 
duct intensive  operations  to  fix  the  GAF  in  northwestern  Europe.^**® 
The  TORCH  commander's  power  and  expressed  intention  to  use 
all  of  the  Eighth  in  Africa  if  necessary  made  the  choice  of  his  air 
advisers  or  air  commanders  vital  for  the  AAF.^*'*'  Under  the  TORCH 
design,  well  formed  by  this  time,  the  commander  in  chief  had  no 
over-all  air  commander. 

Eisenhower's  indorsement  of  Spaatz'  arguments  for  reinforcing  the 
Eighth  strengthened  General  Arnold's  position.  He  used  it  to  support 
a  memo  of  lo  September^^^  to  the  Joint  Chiefs,  in  which  he  advanced 
as  a  fundamental  principle  that  TORCH  could  not  stand  alone,  that 
the  operations  in  the  Middle  East  and  the  United  Kingdom  were  com- 
plementary to  it  in  that  they  drew  off  the  Luftwaffe.  He  warned  that 
the  North  African  area  could  initially  support  the  operations  of  only 
a  limited  number  of  aircraft  and  that  no  object  would  be  served  by 
piling  in  units  impossible  to  employ  by  default  of  supplies  or  air- 
dromes. Therefore,  Arnold  contended,  why  not  concentrate  them  in 
England,  where  facilities  were  comparatively  abundant  and  whence 
pressure  could  be  maintained  on  Germany  and  reinforcements  could 
flow  to  Africa  as  needed?  Perfectly  consistent,  Arnold  on  the  same 
62 


TORCH   AND   THE   TWELFTH    AIR  FORCE 

grounds  had  opposed  the  diversion  from  USAMEAF  of  the  33d 
Fighter  Group.^^^ 

Not  long  afterwards,  Arnold  departed  on  an  inspection  of  the  Pacific 
to  see  for  himself  whether  facilities  in  that  area  were  adequate  to  the 
number  of  planes  the  naval  and  local  army  commanders  were  demand- 
ing.^^^  Before  he  left  he  held  a  conference  with  Maj.  Gen.  George  E. 
Stratemeyer,  chief  of  the  Air  Staff,  which  the  latter  duly  reported 
to  Spaatz  on  17  September.  Arnold  suggested  that  Spaatz  leave  his 
bomber  commander,  Ma).  Gen.  Ira  C.  Eaker,  in  charge  of  the  Eighth 
Air  Force  and  accompany  Eisenhower  to  Africa.  '^You  really  should 
be  designated  CG  AAF  in  Europe,"  read  Stratemeyer's  letter.^^^  This 
suggestion  was  the  logical  culmination  of  the  AAF  contention  that 
Africa  and  England  constituted  a  single  air  theater,  and  it  represented 
the  hope  that  the  strategic  bombing  effort  could  be  protected  by 
securing  for  one  of  its  outstanding  exponents  a  command  position  at 
theater  headquarters. 

Spaatz'  answer  on  the  25th,^^^  cleared  with  Eisenhower,  was  cautious. 
He  pointed  out  that  as  commanding  general  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force 
he  already  exercised  control  over  the  formation  of  the  Twelfth  and 
that  after  the  Twelfth  got  to  Africa  it  would  need  no  strategic  direc- 
tion by  an  air  officer;  Eisenhower  could  direct  it.  Under  the  pro- 
visions of  an  order  of  21  August,  Spaatz  was  already  the  air  officer 
of  ETOUSA,  with  the  function  of  advising  the  commander  in  chief.* 
Therefore  he  could  be  ordered  to  Africa  by  Eisenhower  if  the  situation 
warranted.  For  himself,  he  thought  he  would  be  more  useful  with 
an  Eighth  Air  Force  "increasing  in  size  and  importance." 

If  Eisenhower  had  been  rather  cool  to  the  idea  of  an  over-all  air 
force,  he  nevertheless  appreciated  the  usefulness  of  an  over-all  air 
theater  wherein  air  units  could  be  shifted  as  the  situation  demanded, 
and  in  communications  with  Marshall  he  spoke  highly  of  current  Eighth 
Air  Force  daylight  operations,  although  he  mentioned  that  they  were 
extremely  dependent  on  weather.^^^  On  21  October,^^^  as  TORCH 
drew  near,  he  told  Spaatz  that  he  did  not  wish  the  Eighth  to  be 
disturbed  in  its  operations  while  he  was  out  of  England  and  that 
he  would  in  all  probability,  after  TORCH  was  complete,  return  for 
the  ROUNDUP  operation,  to  which  prospect  he  looked  forward  with 
satisfaction."^  Here  the  commander  in  chief  was  perhaps  reflecting 

*  See  Vol,  1,  591, 

63 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

War  Department  hopes,  for  no  Allied  decision  had  charted  any  strategic 
course  subsequent  to  TORCH. 

On  29  October,  Eisenhower  proceeded  to  approve  the  theater  air 
force  project,  about  which  by  all  outward  signs  he  had  previously 
entertained  misgivings.  Whether  he  did  so  in  anticipation  of  a  future 
ROUNDUP,  or  of  future  Mediterranean  operations,  is  not  apparent; 
he  may  have  simply  perceived  that  the  theater  air  force,  capitalizing 
on  the  mobility  of  air  power,  could  be  a  most  valuable  aid  in  any 
situation  brought  on  by  or  subsequent  to  TORCH.  In  some  ways,  it 
was  a  device  ideally  suited  to  the  strategic  fogs  of  late  1942,  in  which 
Eisenhower  was  feeling  his  way  along  without  any  directive  as  to 
post-TORCH  operations."^ 

As  outlined  by  Spaatz  to  his  chief  of  staff  immediately  after  his 
conversation  with  Eisenhower  on  the  29th,  the  gist  of  the  plan  was 
as  follows:  assuming  the  possession  of  the  North  African  littoral,  Eisen- 
hower hoped  to  place  a  single  command  over  all  U.S.  air  units  oper- 
ating against  the  European  Axis  and  promised  to  advocate  the  in- 
clusion thereunder  of  Brereton's  units,  as  well  as  the  Eighth  and 
Twelfth,  This  force,  making  use  of  bases  "from  Iceland  to  Iraq,""^ 
could  exploit  the  strategic  mobility  of  the  flight  echelons  of  the  air 
force.  Spaatz  mentioned  that  such  a  unified  command  could  expect 
to  be  more  favored  by  the  CCS  than  two  or  three  separate  commands 
competing  for  resources  to  destroy  Germany—in  this  way  more  effec- 
tive arguments  could  be  brought  against  diversions  to  the  Pacific.  Eisen- 
hower had  been  explicit  in  his  instructions.  He  informed  Spaatz  that 
he  intended  to  name  him  to  the  over-all  command,  and  anticipating 
that  the  success  of  TORCH  might  permit  the  matter  to  be  put  for- 
ward in  a  month's  time,  he  specified  that  Spaatz  be  prepared  to  bring 
to  him  in  thirty  days,  wherever  he  might  be,  a  plan  in  the  form  of  a 
cablegram  to  the  CCS. 

Spaatz  accordingly  made  his  arrangements.  He  counted  on  moving 
Eaker  up  from  the  command  of  VIII  Bomber  Command  to  that  of 
the  Eighth  Air  Force  and  on  utilizing  the  Eighth  Air  Force  staff  as 
the  nucleus  of  the  theater  air  force  staff;  he  directed  that  plans  to 
achieve  the  required  mobility  be  immediately  undertaken,  and  to  Brig. 
Gen.  Haywood  S.  Hansell,  Jr.,  he  gave  the  responsibility  of  preparing 
the  cablegram  called  for  by  Eisenhower.  On  30  October  he  conferred 
with  Doohttle  and  briefed  him  on  the  prospect,^^^  emphasizing  the 
importance  of  getting  the  African  airdromes  equipped  to  service  heavy 

64 


TORCH    AND   THE   TWELFTH   AIR  FORCE 

bombers  moving  in  for  short  periods  and  reminding  him  that,  if  either 
Sardinia  or  Italy  were  taken,  shuttle  bombing  between  these  points  and 
the  United  Kingdom  would  be  possible,  which  would  put  operational 
planning  on  the  basis  of  bomber  range  rather  than  tactical  radius.  On 
3 1  October  he  reported  the  development  to  Arnold,^^^  pointing  out 
that  it  was  quite  possible  that  Eighth  Air  Force  heavies  could  be  better 
operated  from  Africa  during  the  winter— October  had  brought  miser- 
able weather  in  England— and  that  the  setup  operated  both  ways: 
bombers  could  be  shifted  back  into  England  for  the  main  effort. 

On  2  November,  not  long  before  he  left  for  Gibraltar,  Eisenhower 
reiterated  his  support  of  the  plan,"^  asking  that  the  theater  air  force  be 
stressed  in  Spaatz'  communications  with  Arnold  and  informing  the 
Eighth  Air  Force  commander  that  as  soon  as  he  had  established  what 
could  be  accomplished  from  the  various  air  base  areas  in  England  and 
Africa  he  should  proceed  to  AFHQ.  Studies  of  the  capabihties  of  air 
power  in  the  Mediterranean  were  undertaken*^^  and  the  organiza- 
tional implications  of  a  theater  air  force  put  under  scrutiny,  a  hitch 
developing  in  this  latter  regard  on  1 2  November  when  Bedell  Smith, 
Eisenhower's  chief  of  staff,  chose  to  regard  the  theater  air  commander 
as  merely  chief  of  the  air  section  of  the  general  staff  .  However,  this  mat- 
ter was  left  for  later  determination,  and  on  the  same  day  Spaatz'  staff 
drew  up  a  draft  memo  on  a  subject  very  dear  to  his  heart:  the  reassign- 
ment of  the  Twelfth's  two  B-i  7  groups  to  the  Eighth  Air  Force.^^* 

Since  August  the  Eighth  had  contributed  much  to  the  forwarding  of 
TORCH,  and  at  considerable  cost  to  itself.  That  it  would  continue  to 
be  levied  upon  long  after  8  November  had  been  made  abundantly 
clear.  To  mention  two  factors,  the  assembly  and  modification  of  the 
Twelfth's  aircraft,  with  which  the  Eighth  was  charged,  lagged  behind 
schedule,  and  secondly,  Eisenhower  required  that  Eighth  Air  Force 
units  be  prepared  for  operations  in  Africa.  A  further  subordination  of 
the  Eighth  to  the  Twelfth's  needs  came  with  supply  arrangements 
reached  on  3 1  October,  whereby  it  was  provided  that  if  the  Twelfth  in 
Africa  did  not  get  its  supplies  satisfactorily  from  the  United  States  on  an 
"automatic"  basis,  VIII  Air  Force  Service  Command  would  stand  ready 
to  make  up  the  deficiency.  This  later  resulted  in  a  tremendous  depletion 
of  the  Eighth's  stocks,  an  officer  of  VIII  AFSC  estimating  that  "75  per 
cent  at  least"  of  its  supplies  went  to  Africa  when  the  Twelfth  moved 
down.*^''  Lower-echelon  personnel  of  the  Eighth,  not  unnaturally, 
tended  to  resent  the  progressive  loss  of  their  weapons  and  equipment 

65 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

to  an  upstart  organization  of  whose  mission  they  were  entirely  ignorant. 
But  even  such  men  as  Spaatz,  Eaker,  and  Sir  Charles  Portal,  who  knew 
what  was  afoot  with  the  Twelfth,  had  been  dismayed  by  the  diversion 
of  the  97th  and  301st,  the  most  practiced  and  until  October  (with 
the  exception  of  the  9 2d)  the  only  heavy  groups  operational  in  the 
whole  Eighth  Air  Force.^^® 

The  memo  for  Eisenhower,  drafted  on  12  November /^"^  was  in- 
tended to  be  worked  up  for  use  within  a  week  or  two.  It  assumed  that 
Rommel  had  been  smashed  and  that  his  line  of  communications  and 
rear  were  no  longer  targets.  Therefore,  the  97th  and  301st  should  be 
reassigned  to  the  Eighth  to  bolster  its  small  bomber  force'^s  efforts 
against  Germany.  The  memo  did  admit  that  perhaps  all  the  heavies 
might  be  brought  to  Africa  if  the  weather  over  northwestern  Europe 
did  not  improve,  but  the  units  would  go  as  Eighth  Air  Force  units,  the 
Ninth  and  the  Twelfth  to  furnish  the  base  facilities. 

While  Spaatz  had  been  busying  himself  with  the  theater  air  force, 
TORCH,  whose  engrossing  of  the  North  African  coast  would  give 
the  plan  reality,  had  svrang  into  action.  Eisenhower  and  his  staff  flew 
down  to  Gibraltar  on  5  November,  his  6-17  being  forced  to  circle  the 
Rock  for  an  hour  because  of  the  congestion  on  the  runway.  Doolittle, 
whose  B-I7  had  been  delayed  in  getting  off  from  Hurn,  came  in  the 
next  day  only  after  a  brush  with  four  Ju-88's  off  Cape  Finisterre.^^^ 
By  then  the  assault  convoys  from  England  and  the  United  States  had 
been  under  way  for  over  a  week.  There  would  soon  be  an  answer  to  the 
questions  that  had  agonized  the  TORCH  planners:  Would  the  French 
resist  and  how  seriously?  Had  the  secret  been  kept?  Would  the  Span- 
iards join  in?  Would  the  weathermen's  predictions  get  the  Western 
Task  Force  ashore? 


66 


CHAPTER  3 


T//£  LANDINGS  AND  THE 
RACE  FOR  TUNIS 

THE  Twelfth  Air  Force's  role  in  the  assault  phase  of  the 
TORCH  operation  was,  in  the  aggregate,  a  minor  one.  At 
Algiers,  the  RAF,  which  had  Spitfires  and  Hurricanes  from 
Gibraltar  operating  out  of  Maison  Blanche  by  noon  of  D-day,  shared 
with  the  Royal  Navy's  Fleet  Air  Arm  the  responsibility  of  cooperating 
with  Maj.  Gen.  Charles  W.  Ryder's  Eastern  Assault  Force,  to  which 
the  city  was  surrendered  by  nightfall.^  In  the  more  stiffly  contested 
actions  at  Oran  and  Casablanca,  carrierborne  aviation  furnished  a  major 
part  of  the  air  offensive.  The  Twelfth  did,  however,  contribute  sub- 
stantially to  the  discomfiture  of  the  defenders  of  Oran. 

Oran  lies  about  230  miles  east  of  Gibraltar,  where  the  Mediterranean 
is  still  narrow.  The  town  enjoys  considerable  natural  protection  in  the 
steepness  of  the  adjacent  coast  and  in  the  chain  of  salt  rharshes  in  its 
hinterland.  Allied  estimates  put  the  potential  daily  intake  of  its  port  at 
upwards  of  4,000  tons,  not  counting  the  naval  base  at  Mers-el-Kebir, 
three  miles  to  the  westward  across  Oran  bay.  Besides  Tafaraoui  and 
La  Senia,  there  were  several  landing  grounds  in  the  area  which  figured 
in  Twelfth  Air  Force  plans:  Oggaz,  Fleurus,  Saint-Denis-du-Sig, 
and  Lourmel. 

Because  of  the  state  of  its  arms  and  morale,  the  French  army  in  the 
Oran  area  was  not  expected  to  put  up  a  prolonged  resistance,  although 
it  could  bring  about  21,000  troops  to  bear  by  D  plus  2.  On  the  other 
hand,  the  coastal  batteries,  manned  by  naval  personnel  nursing  distaste 
for  the  British,  were  likely  to  resist  in  determined  fashion.^  The  local 
air  force,  supposed  to  cherish  substantial  pro-Allied  sentiments,  mus- 
tered about  fifty-five  fighters  (Dewoitine  520's)  and  about  forty  obso- 

67 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

lescent  bombers,  the  majority  of  the  force  being  based  at  La  Senia.^ 
The  Allies  did  not  know  prior  to  D-day  what  naval  units  would  be  in 
port;  as  it  turned  out,  there  were  an  escort  vessel,  four  destroyers,  and 
a  number  of  submarines.* 

Against  the  French  establishment  at  Oran  was  pitted  the  Center  Task 
Force,  which  included  British  naval  elements  under  Cdre.  Thomas 
Troubridge  and  American  ground  and  air  force  troops  under  General 
Fredendall,  once  the  old  GYMNAST  commander.  Troubridge's  fleet 
comprised  the  headquarters  ship  Largs,  the  battleship  Rodney,  the  car- 
rier Furious^  the  auxiliary  carriers  Biter  and  Dasher,  the  AA  ships  Delhi 
and  Alynbank,  the  light  cruisers  Aurora  and  Jamaica,  besides  various 
destroyers,  corvettes,  mine  sweepers,  trawlers,  and  other  craft.  The 
Furious  carried  twenty-four  Seafires  and  nine  Albacores;  the  Biter,  fif- 
teen Hurricanes;  the  Dasher,  nine  Hurricanes.  Fredendall  commanded 
II  Corps  troops:  ist  Infantry  Division,  ist  Ranger  Battalion,  and  Com- 
bat Command  B  of  the  ist  Armored  Division.^ 

The  Center  Task  Force's  directive  specified  that  it  was  to  assault  and 
capture  Oran  and  its  airdromes  and  prepare,  in  conjunction  with  the 
Western  Task  Force,  land  and  air  striking  forces  to  secure  Spanish 
Morocco,  if  this  proved  necessary.  It  was  responsible  for  the  establish- 
ment and  maintenance  of  communications  with  the  Western  and  East- 
ern task  forces.  Once  command  had  passed  from  Troubridge, 
Fredendall  had  control  of  all  ground,  air,  and  service  units  of  the  task 
force;  the  command  channel  would  then  be  from  CTF  to  ist  Infantry 
Division,  to  Combat  Command  B  of  ist  Armored  Division,  to  Oran  air 
force  under  Col.  Lauris  Norstad,  Doolittle's  A-3.® 

The  tactical  plan  envisioned  the  investment  of  Oran  by  a  double  en- 
velopment from  beaches  east  and  west  of  the  city,  the  advance  from  the 
beachheads  to  be  supported  by  the  guns  of  the  British  fleet.  Two  regi- 
mental combat  teams  of  the  ist  Infantry  Division  were  to  land  at  Z 
beach,  the  little  town  of  Arzeu  east  of  Oran;  a  third  RCT  at  Y  beach 
(Les  Andalouses)  west  of  the  city.  One  column  of  Combat  Command 
B's  tanks  would  come  in  through  the  Arzeu  beachhead;  another  de- 
tachment was  to  land  at  X  beach,  the  cove  of  Mersat  bou  Zed  jar,  to  the 
west  of  Les  Andalouses.  Tafaraoui  and  La  Senia  constituted  the  first 
objectives  of  the  armor;  upon  their  capture  Combat  Command  B 
would  attack  Oran  from  the  south."^ 

The  Fleet  Air  Arm,  responsible  for  the  protection  of  the  convoys 
and  the  landings  and  for  cooperation  with  the  ground  forces  until  such 

68 


•"5 


ALGIERS 


TAN  e  I  E  R  ^.....^ 
CASAB  tANCA^^:     .  .  . 


CASABLANCA 
AREA 


Port  Lyootey 
Robot 


El  Hank  ^•fedhala 

CASABLAHpAlKlztS  AIRDROME 
^^T^:-  •Mediouno 


FRENCH 

MOROCCO 


R 


A 


^rSFAX 


■'■^^^fe^.  ^TRIPOLI 


ORAN  AREA 


Mers  el  Kej)ir 
Les  An  do  louses 


Cop  Flgolo  Mlsserghin^si^/^^ 

i?  ;:  "  '  St.Deni 


Mostaganem/ 

.••■^'♦Saiint  Leu";; 
•SlCloud^iMocto 

•  La  Semo 

TIelat 


St.Denisdu  Sig 
Mascara  < 


.*Beni  Sof  ALGERIA 


«Sidi  Bet  Abbes 


f  on  i  to  Lonier 

19    4  8 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

time  as  the  Twelfth  put  in  an  appearance,  planned  strikes  at  first  light 
on  D-day  against  La  Senia,  hoping  to  break  the  back  of  the  French  air 
force  if  it  did  not  turn  out  friendly  to  the  Allies.®  A  feature  of  the  Oran 
attack  added  early  in  October  was  a  commando-type  raid  on  the  har- 
bor. HMS  Walney  and  Hartland,  former  U.S.  Coast  Guard  cutters, 
flying  the  American  flag  above  the  Union  Jack,  were  to  land  personnel 
to  overcome  the  harbor  forts  and  batteries  and  prevent  sabotage  of  the 
wharves  and  shipping.^ 

Oran 

The  Oran  convoy  passed  through  the  Gibraltar  Strait  at  1700  hours, 
6  November,  after  an  uneventful  passage  from  the  United  Kingdom— 
the  Atlantic  U-boat  pack  had  taken  off  after  a  small  England-bound 
convoy  out  of  Sierra  Leone  and  left  clear  the  sea  paths  to  Gibraltar  and 
Morocco.  TORCH  was  beginning  to  enjoy  more  good  fortune  than 
the  ordinary  military  operation  had  any  right  to  expect.  Despite  the 
fact  that  Vichy  and  Berlin  had  been  anticipating  an  Allied  stroke 
against  French  North  or  West  Africa  for  months,  the  Germans,  get- 
ting their  first  inkling  that  something  was  afoot  when  the  convoys  were 
reported  at  Gibraltar,  mistook  the  movement  for  another  attempt  to 
provision  Malta  or  a  landing  somewhere  in  the  eastern  Mediterranean 
to  hem  in  the  late  invaders  of  Egypt.  The  Italians,  on  the  other  hand, 
perhaps  because  of  their  natural  nervousness  at  the  possibility  of  such  a 
development,  correctly  interpreted  the  Allied  strategy.  As  the  Algiers 
and  Oran  convoys,  in  that  order,  came  on  through  the  narrow  sea  on 
the  Malta  course,  dive-bomber  and  fighter  squadrons  began  gathering 
in  Sicily  and  Sardinia.  The  convoys  did  not  alter  course  until  dusk  fell 
on  7  November.  At  Oran,  the  military  establishment  had  been  alerted 
on  the  morning  of  the  7th  by  aerial  reconnaissance,  but  the  alert  was 
abandoned  as  the  convoys  passed  eastward.  Troubridge  slipped  back 
through  the  moonless  night  to  take  position.  H-hour  at  Oran  and 
Algiers  was  0100.^** 

At  five  minutes  before  H-hour,  two  companies  of  Rangers  were  put 
into  Arzeu.  They  diminished  resistance  sufficiently  so  that  the  ist  In- 
fantry Division  occupied  the  town  in  force  by  0745.  The  French,  how- 
ever, blocked  further  progress  on  the  road  to  Oran  at  the  village  of 
Saint-Cloud.  The  western  arms  of  the  envelopment  had  meanwhile  got 
ashore.  The  26th  RCT  came  in  unopposed  at  Les  Andalouses,  but 
French  artillery  denied  it  the  height  of  Djebel  Mourdjadjo,  command- 

70 


LANDINGS    AND   THE    RACE    FOR  TUNIS 

ing  Mers-el-Kebir  and  Oran.  The  western  column  of  Combat  Com- 
mand B,  after  considerable  difficulty  in  finding  X  beach,  carried  out  a 
rapid  advance  which  took  Lourmel  and  had  rolled  on  to  the  vicinity  of 
Misserghin  by  the  afternoon.  Already  the  gallant  W alney  and  Hart- 
landy  victims  of  the  expectation  that  the  French  might  offer  only  token 
resistance,  had  met  disaster  in  Oran  harbor.  During  the  day  Vichy  de- 
stroyers issued  in  hopeless  sorties  against  Troubridge's  fleet.  Stubborn 
coastal  batteries  engaged  the  Rodney  in  frequent  duels/^ 

On  the  afternoon  of  D  minus  i,  7  November,  Eisenhower  had  sent 
off  his  ADVANCE  NiVPOLEON,  the  code  message  which  meant 
that  Bentley's  C-47's  would  take  off  for  Oran  around  2200  hours  with 
a  peaceful  daylight  landing  at  La  Senia  in  prospect.  During  the  next 
two  days  he  worried  intermittently  over  the  fate  of  the  paratroop 
force,  which  he  intended,  once  it  had  landed  at  La  Senia,  to  send  on  to 
Maison  Blanche,  Bone,  and  possibly  to  Tunis  itself,  as  part  of  a  series  of 
rapid  advances  to  forestall  the  Germans  and  Italians.  As  it  turned  out,  it 
took  several  days  for  the  Paratroop  Task  Force  to  collect  itself  after  its 
initial  experiences  in  TORCH.^^ 

The  C-47's  took  off  on  schedule  from  Predannack  and  St.  Eval,  while 
RAF  Spitfires  and  Beaufighters  patrolled  overhead,  and  assembled  over 
Portreath,  the  flights  intermingling  to  some  extent  before  course  for  the 
first  leg  was  set  for  the  Scilly  Islands.  On  the  way  south,  because  of  the 
burning  out  of  formation  lights  and  because  of  the  inability  of  the  air- 
craft to  home  on  squadron  commanders,  the  formations  disintegrated 
amid  increasingly  bad  weather,  many  aircraft  proceeding  individually 
across  Spain  and  over  the  Mediterranean.  Nor  could  the  secret  radio  or 
the  fleet  off  Oran  reassemble  the  C-47's:  the  operator  of  the  former  had 
destroyed  his  radio  when  no  aircraft  were  in  evidence  at  the  earlier  time 
of  arrival  specified  by  "war  plan^'— he  had  not  been  informed  that 
"peace  plan''  was  on;  the  homing  ship  transmitted  on  460  kilocycles  in- 
stead of  the  planned  440. 

Some  of  the  unarmed  troop  carriers  reached  the  vicinity  of  Oran 
shortly  after  daylight  and  found  the  French  at  La  Senia  and  their 
Dewoitines  not  as  friendly  as  forecast.  Bentley,  accompanied  by  a 
group  of  his  transports,  discovered  to  his  disgust  that  he  had  been  hom- 
ing on  a  lighthouse  near  Melilla  in  Spanish  Morocco;  he  finally  got  to 
Oran  to  find  a  dozen  C-47's  down  on  a  dry  part  of  the  bed  of  the 
Sebkra  d'Oran,  the  largest  of  the  salt  lakes  ringing  the  port.  While  rec- 
onnoitering  La  Senia,  he  himself  was  forced  down  by  motor  trouble 


71 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 


and  taken  prisoner.  Not  without  further  mishap,  Colonel  Raff  finally 
brought  the  bulk  of  his  paratroops  into  Tafaraoui  late  in  the  afternoon, 
where  American  armor  was  enjoying  what  seemed  to  be  a  very  uncer- 
tain tenure.  The  paratroop  force  had  suffered  some  casualties  from  the 
Dewoitines,  however,  and  C-47's  were  scattered  from  Gibraltar  all 
through  the  northwestern  shoulder  of  Africa,  with  three  interned  in 
Spanish  Morocco.^^ 

Tafaraoui  had  been  captured  by  the  eastern  column  of  Combat  Com- 
mand B  which  had  passed,  as  planned,  through  the  ist  Division  beach- 
head at  Arzeu,  turned  south,  and  dashed  through  Sainte-Barbe-du- 
Tlelat.  It  took  Tafaraoui  towards  noon,  after  a  short,  sharp  fight.  The 
way  was  now  open  for  land-based  aerial  reinforcements  for  the  Center 
Task  Force,  heretofore  relying  on  the  Fleet  Air  Arm.  The  Largs  noti- 
fied Gibraltar.^* 

At  about  1520  hours  Doolittle  arrived  on  the  Gibraltar  airdrome 
from  the  command  post  and  ordered  Col.  John  R.  Hawkins  to  take  his 
31st  Group  fighters  into  Tafaraoui.  The  31st  had  been  scheduled  for 
the  Casablanca  area,  where  the  more  strenuous  resistance  was  antici- 
pated, and  was  parked  on  the  crowded  airstrip  in  front  of  Col.  Dixon 
M.  Allison's  5  2d  Group,  which  was  to  go  into  Oran.  As  any  other  ar- 
rangement meant  delay,  Doolittle  ordered  Hawkins'  pilots  to  take  off, 
which  they  did  inside  of  twenty  minutes— two  squadrons  of  Spitfires— 
flying  around  thundershowers  on  the  way  to  Oran  and  trying  vainly 
to  contact  the  fighter  control  which  according  to  their  briefing  would 
have  been  set  up  at  Tafaraoui,  They  arrived  at  1700  hours.  Hawkins 
found  a  section  of  the  runway  without  holes  and  led  his  pilots  in  for  a 
landing.  French  artillery  was  registering  on  the  airdrome  and  some  of 
the  Spits  still  airborne  temporarily  silenced  it  by  a  strafing  attack.  Four 
Dewoitines,  mistaken  for  Hurricanes,  had  been  doing  lazy  eights  over 
the  field  as  the  squadrons  arrived;  when  the  last  four  Spits  were  in  a 
landing  circle  with  wheels  down  the  Dewoitines  came  in  for  an  attack 
and  shot  down  and  killed  one  pilots  only  to  lose  three  of  their  number.^^ 
The  ubiquitous  Dewoitines  to  the  contrary,  the  French  air  strength  had 
already  been  largely  crippled  by  the  Fleet  Air  Arm's  strikes  at  the 
La  Senia  hangars.^^ 

On  the  morning  of  9  November,  after  the  African  night  had  echoed 
to  sniper  fire  and  rung  to  the  ingenious  American  challenge  *'Heigh-ho 
Silver"— reply,  "Awa-a-y"— the  French  air  force  made  a  farewell  ges- 
ture when  a  single  bomber  dropped  a  lone  bomb  on  Tafaraoui,  damag- 

72 


LANDINGS   AND   THE   RACE   FOR  TUNIS 


ing  one  of  the  C-47's  wluch  had  flown  in  from  the  Sebkra  the  previous 
day.  The  3  ist  had  a  patrol  up,  but  darkness  and  lack  of  radio  equipment 
permitted  the  bomber's  escape.  Before  noon  the  remainder  of  the 
French  aircraft  at  La  Senia  left  for  the  comparative  safety  of  Morocco. 
Shortly  after  daylight,  as  the  field  was  being  shelled  by  the  everlasting 
75's,  a  motor  convoy  containing  ground  personnel  of  the  31st  rolled 
into  Taf araoui  from  Arzeu.  By  dint  of  improvisation  and  use  of  French 
ammunition  and  gas,  they  kept  the  Spitfires  in  the  air  thereaf  ter.^^ 

The  3 1  St  rendered  important  aid  in  the  stubborn  battle  for  Oran, 
Shortly  after  dawn  on  the  9th,  three  of  its  Spits  on  reconnaissance 
southward  discovered  a  large  hostile  force  moving  up  from  Sidi-bel- 
Abbes.  Continuing  attacks,  enduring  four  to  five  hours,  were  main- 
tained against  the  column,  which  turned  out  to  be  the  famous  Foreign 
Legion.  The  light  French  tanks  offered  pitiful  opposition  to  the  Spits' 
20-mm.  guns,  and  the  discouraged  Legion  eventually  turned  back,  after 
which  it  was  not  further  molested.  Hawkins,  using  the  radio  in  the 
armored  force's  command  tank  and  later  those  in  the  Spits,  had  estab- 
lished communications  with  the  Largs,  The  command  ship  assigned 
several  missions:  one  against  coastal  guns  too  heavily  protected  for 
effective  strafing,  another  against  what  proved  to  be  an  American  unit, 
which  promptly  shot  down  two  of  the  offending  Spits— the  command 
ship  had  identified  the  target  as  west  of  La  Macta  when  it  had  meant  to 
say  east.  Flights  of  the  3  ist,  however,  were  able  to  silence  the  trouble- 
some 75's  which  had  intermittently  shelled  Taf  araoui.  During  the 
afternoon  Doolittle  arrived  in  a  B- 17  with  Spitfire  escort  from  the  5  2d 
Group.  Altogether,  seventeen  missions,  totaling  forty-five  sorties,  were 
flown  during  the  day.^® 

Meanwhile,  the  ground  forces  had  been  making  progress.  The  ist 
Division  began  to  bypass  the  French  hedgehog  at  Saint-Cloud,  but  its 
1 8th  RCT  was  still  pinned  against  the  mountains  west  of  Mers-el- 
Kebir.  The  western  armored  column  bypassed  Misserghin  by  routing 
its  armor  through  the  soft  ground  at  the  edge  of  the  Sebkra,  and  the  de- 
fenses of  La  Senia  were  finally  cracked  with  the  aid  of  strafing  Spitfires. 
Once  junction  had  been  made  between  the  armored  wings,  the  fall  of 
Oran  was  a  foregone  conclusion,  failing  a  resort  to  the  barricades  in  the 
city  itself.  The  French  perceived  this  towards  noon  of  the  next  day  and 
got  armistice  negotiations  under  way.^® 

While  the  fighting  lasted  on  the  loth,  the  Taf  araoui  Spitfires  con- 
tinued to  exert  themselves  in  various  roles,  but  the  French  were  paying 

73 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORCES    IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

more  attention  to  dispersal  and  concealment  and  few  profitable  targets 
were  to  be  found.  The  general  performance  of  the  airmen  earned  the 
adjective  "splendid"  from  Doolittle  and  a  letter  of  commendation  from 
Maj.  Gen.  Terry  Allen,  commanding  the  ist  Infantry  Division.  Losses 
since  8  November  included  one  in  combat,  four  from  ground  fire,  and 
two  in  taxiing.  Six  of  the  52d's  aircraft  had  run  out  of  gas  on  the  way  in 
from  Gibraltar  and  came  down  in  various  places;  only  twenty  of  the 
6oth  Group's  C-47's  were  operational  on  the  loth.^^  But  Algeria  was 
now  secure— the  door  open  for  aerial  reinforcement  for  the  campaign 
developing  in  the  east.  On  the  iith  and  12  th  the  31st  put  reconnais- 
sance flights  over  Spanish  Morocco,  but  despite  rumors  to  the  contrary, 
there  was  nothing  tangible  to  indicate  that  the  Spaniards  there  intended 
any  hostile  move.^^ 

Casablanca 

Patton's  Western  Task  Force  succeeded  in  effecting  a  landing  on  a 
coast  where  a  respectable  body  of  military  opinion  held  a  successful 
landing  highly  improbable.  The  Moroccan  rivers  are  shallow;  the 
Moroccan  beaches  long  and  shelving;  there  is  an  abundance  of  rocky 
outcrops.  High  surf  and  swell  are  common  even  in  good  weather,  and 
good  weather  is  generally  rare  in  the  autumn.  Yet  Patton's  men  reached 
the  beaches  over  what  was  reportedly  the  calmest  sea  in  sixty-eight 
years.^^  Once  ashore,  on  the  other  hand,  their  operations  were  more 
protracted  than  had  been  expected;  the  fierce  resistance  put  up  at 
Mehdia  and  the  approaches  to  the  Port  Lyautey  airdrome  did  not  allow 
XII  Air  Support  Command's  aircraft  to  fly  in  in  time  to  join  the  action 
against  the  French. 

Algiers  capitulated  on  D-day  itself;  Oran  gave  in  on  D  plus  2.  On  the 
west  coast  where  the  resident-general,  Auguste  Nogues,  was  fore- 
warned by  American  sympathizers  who  attempted  to  convince  him 
that  resistance  was  futile,  Casablanca  held  out  until  D  plus  3.  Because 
of  an  almost  complete  failure  of  communications,  the  anxious 
Eisenhower  at  Gibraltar  heard  very  little  from  Patton  during  the  early 
stages  of  his  landing,  and  as  late  as  10  November  many  of  Patton's  own 
officers  were  reported  pessimistic  as  to  the  prospects.  But  the  operation, 
like  the  singed  cat,  was  better  than  it  looked.  The  fall  of  Oran  really 
sealed  Casablanca's  fate,  as  the  French  could  not  have  withstood  an 
additional  attack  coming  overland  from  Algeria.  There  was  ample 
scope  for  guerrilla  resistance  in  Morocco,  however,  as  there  was  any- 

74 


LANDINGS    AND    THE    RACE    FOR  TUNIS 


where  in  North  Africa.  Fortunately,  Darlan  persuaded  Nogues  to  give 
up  early  on  the  morning  of  1 1  November.^^ 

The  defenses  of  Morocco  were  formidable  enough.  The  French  had 
added  numerous  batteries  to  the  inhospitable  coast,  and  moored  in  Casa- 
blanca harbor  was  the  unfinished  battleship  Jean  Bart  whose  four 
15-inchers  had  to  be  reckoned  with.  The  55,000  troops  allowed 
Morocco  by  the  1940  armistice  were  supposed  to  be  better  equipped 
than  their  colleagues  in  Algeria  and  Tunisia,  as  Nogues  had  found  ways 
and  means  of  circumventing  the  armistice  commission.  The  French  air 
force  in  the  area,  however,  possessed  only  about  1 30  combat  aircraft— 
Curtiss  and  Dewoitine  fighters  and  an  assortment  of  middle-aged  bomb- 
ers—whose rate  of  employment,  as  at  Oran,  was  certain  to  diminish  be- 
cause of  lack  of  gasoline  and  service  facilities.  Again,  no  friendly  recep- 
tion was  to  be  expected  from  the  embittered  French  navy.  Whatever 
forces  Vice  Adm.  Frix  Michelier  could  bring  to  bear  would  probably 
fight  with  intelligence  and  determination.  In  the  event,  these  included 
the  light  cruiser  Primauguet,  the  flotilla  leaders  Milan^  Albatros, 
Le  Maliriy  seven  destroyers,  eleven  submarines,  and  three  sloops.^'* 

The  U.S.  Navy,  which  was  responsible  for  air  as  well  as  naval  co- 
operation until  XII  Air  Support  Command  could  relieve  it,  brought 
over  an  armada  huge  by  1942  standards,  partly  in  the  expectation  of  a 
sally  by  the  heavily  armed  Richelieu^  reported  at  Dakar.  The  battle- 
ships Massachusetts,  New  York,  and  Texas  and  the  cruisers  Augusta 
(flagship),  Wichita,  Tuscaloosa,  Cleveland,  Philadelphia,  Brooklyn, 
and  Savannah,  with  attendant  destroyers,  oilers,  and  minelayers,  sailed 
in  Task  Force  34,  under  Rear  Adm.  Henry  K.  Hewitt.  Task  Force  34's 
air  group  was  commanded  by  Rear  Adm.  Ernest  D.  McWhorter.  It  in- 
cluded the  Ranger,  carrying  fifty-four  F4F-4's  and  eighteen  SBD's;  the 
Sangamon,  carrying  nine  TBF's,  nine  SBD's,  and  twelve  F4F-4's;  the 
Santee,  carrying  an  equivalent  complement;  and  the  Suwannee,  with 
nine  TBF's  and  thirty  F4F-4's.  In  the  convoy  sailed  the  Chenango  with 
the  P-40's  of  the  3  3d  Fighter  Group.  The  Contessa,  with  its  cargo  of  gas 
and  munitions  and  a  crew  derived  partly  from  a  Norfolk  naval  prison, 
sailed  independently  from  Hampton  Roads  on  26  October.^* 

Patton  commanded  37,000  ground  and  air  force  troops— the  3d  In- 
fantry Division  and  the  2d  Armored  Division  fresh  from  landing  prac- 
tice at  Solomons  Island  in  Chesapeake  Bay  to  bear  the  brunt  of  the 
attack.  His  mission  was  the  occupation  of  the  ports  and  airdromes  in  the 
Casablanca  region,  the  establishment  and  maintenance  of  communica- 

75 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  11 

tions  with  Oran,  and  the  build-up  of  air  and  land  striking  forces  for 
possible  use  against  Spanish  Morocco.  The  scheme  of  maneuver  was  as 
follows:  three  surprise  landings— supported  after  daylight  by  naval 
gunfire;  elimination  of  the  enemy  air  force  by  surprise  dawn  attacks; 
and  the  securing  by  the  end  of  D-day  of  at  least  one  airdrome  for  land- 
based  planes.  The  main  assault  would  strike  at  Fedhala,  a  pleasure  resort 
thirteen  miles  north  of  Casablanca;  it  was  to  be  coordinated  with  a 
landing  at  Safi  130  miles  to  the  south.  The  most  northerly  attack,  at 
Mehdia,  eighty  miles  up  the  coast,  had  as  its  chief  objective  the  Port 
Lyautey  airdrome,  to  be  captured  it  was  hoped  by  the  end  of  D-day.^^ 

On  23  October,  Task  Force  34  began  to  put  to  sea  out  of  Hampton 
Roads.  The  covering  group,  intended  to  contain  the  French  naval 
forces  at  Casablanca  and  the  Richelieu  at  Dakar,  joined  in  mid- Atlantic 
from  Casco  Bay.  The  carriers  joined  on  28  October  from  Bermuda. 
The  armada  zigzagged  across  the  Atlantic,  feinting  at  Dakar  and  avoid- 
ing sea  searches  from  the  Canaries  and  the  Azores.  After  6  November, 
the  weather  began  to  clear  and  the  task  force  prepared  for  battle. 
H-hour  was  0400,  three  hours  later  than  at  Oran  and  Algiers.^^ 

The  main  assault  at  Fedhala  occasioned  considerable  confusion: 
many  units  landed  at  the  wrong  beaches;  two  boats  strayed  into  Casa- 
blanca harbor,  where  they  were  unluckily  discovered  by  a  French 
patrol  vessel.  Ashore,  however,  the  French  mainly  fought  a  delaying 
action,  while  they  fortified  the  nearer  approaches  to  Casablanca.  At 
Safi,  the  landing,  aided  by  some  superior  fleet  gunnery,  went  fairly 
smoothly.  By  1500  hours  the  sea  train  Lakehurst  was  unloading  Sher- 
mans in  the  harbor.  The  Santee's  aircraft  helping  disperse  French  rein- 
forcements coming  from  Marrakech,  by  1 1  November  the  Safi  force 
had  reached  Mazagan  and  was  poised  for  a  coordinated  attack  barely 
forestalled  by  Nogues'  surrender.^®  True  to  form,  the  French  fleet 
units  spent  themselves  in  desperate  sorties  against  Hewitt's  warships. 
The  Jean  Bart  and  the  coastal  batteries,  however,  were  harder  nuts  to 
crack  and  the  former,  despite  naval  gunfire  and  bombing,  was  still  able 
to  fire  at  the  time  of  the  armistice.  On  10  November  the  Augusta  nar- 
rowly escaped  hits  from  her  1 5 -inch  shells.  On  the  nights  of  11/12  and 
12/13  November,  four  transports  were  torpedoed  and  sunk  off 
Fedhala,  whether  by  U-boats  or  French  submarines  out  of  Casablanca 
was  unknown.^® 

Mehdia  brought  the  most  severe  fighting  of  the  entire  operation. 
There,  landings  had  been  planned  on  both  sides  of  the  mouth  of  the 

76 


LANDINGS    AND    THE    RACE    FOR  TUNIS 


Sebou,  while  the  destroyer  Dallas^  guided  by  a  pro- Allied  Frenchman, 
formerly  a  pilot  on  the  river,  was  to  proceed  upstream  to  Port  Lyautey. 
The  main  landing,  immediately  south  of  the  estuary,  encountered  stiff 
resistance,  French  batteries  driving  the  transports  out  of  range  and 
hostile  fighters  strafing  the  beaches,  which  necessitated  calls  to  the 
carriers.  The  Dallas  could  not  run  the  Sebou  in  the  face  of  the  fire  from 
the  walled  Kasba  at  Mehdia,  where  Foreign  Legion  elements  not  only 
maintained  themselves  but  on  the  morning  of  the  loth  counterattacked 
and  captured  an  American  detachment  which  had  penetrated  their 
positions. 

On  the  loth,  however,  both  Port  Lyautey  and  Mehdia  were  finally 
cleared.  After  a  Navy  crew  in  a  small  boat  had  cut  the  net  across  the 
Sebou  the  night  before,  the  Dallas  scraped  her  way  up  the  shallow, 
winding  river  and  by  0800  landed  a  Ranger  detachment  at  the  airfield, 
which  the  French  were  contesting  with  a  company  of  American  in- 
fantry. Later  the  Army  took  the  Kasba  in  an  action  reminiscent  of 
Beau  Geste.^^ 

Headquarters  of  XII  Air  Support  Command  was  first  established  on 
the  beach  and  subsequently  at  the  Miramar  Hotel  at  Fedhala.  When  it 
was  learned  that  the  Port  Lyautey  field  had  been  finally  secured, 
Lt.  Col.  William  W.  Momyer's  P-40's  were  ordered  in  from  the 
Chenango.  Despite  misgivings  of  the  Navy,  the  catapulting  itself  was 
fairly  successful,  planes  eventually  being  launched  at  as  little  as  two-  or 
three-minute  intervals.  However,  Navy  shells  and  dive  bombers  had 
badly  damaged  the  main  runway  at  Port  Lyautey  and  the  rest  of  the 
field  was  soft.  The  catapulting,  begun  on  10  November,  had  to  be  dis- 
continued and  was  not  completed  until  two  days  later,  some  of  the 
P-4o*s  evidently  going  into  Cazes  airdrome  at  Casablanca.  Of  the 
seventy-seven  P-40*s  launched  from  the  Chenango^  one  crashed  into 
the  sea,  one  flew  off  into  the  fog  and  was  never  heard  from,  and  seven- 
teen were  damaged  in  landing.  None,  apparently,  got  into  action.  Not 
long  afterward,  thirty-five  more  P-40's,  the  "advance  attrition"  of  the 
33d  Group,  arrived  off  Morocco  on  the  British  carrier  Archer  in  the 
D  plus  5  convoy.  These  planes  were  also  catapulted  and  came  down  at 
Port  Lyautey,  four  cracking  up  on  landing  primarily  because  of  pilot 
inexperience.^^ 

Thus  the  U.S.  Navy's  carrier  aircraft  had  assumed  the  whole  burden 
of  air  cooperation  with  the  Western  Task  Force.  They  performed 
creditably  by  all  accounts,  ranging  as  far  afield  as  Marrakech  and 

77 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORCES    IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

Rabat-Sale  to  attack  the  French  air  force,  quickly  responding  to  calls 
from  the  ground  forces,  and  making  effective  attacks  against  the  lighter 
French  naval  units  sortieing  out  of  Casablanca.  During  the  hostilities, 
although  it  did  not  furnish  air  support  against  the  French,  XII ASC  had 
taken  on  a  variety  of  tasks.  Its  air  support  parties  performed  effectively; 
many  of  its  units  participated  as  assault  infantry,  a  rare  employment  for 
Air  Corps  troops.  Its  service  command  personnel  were  running  a  gas- 
laden  truck  convoy  into  Cazes  airdrome  almost  before  the  last  shots  in 
defense  of  the  field  had  died  away.^^ 

Prehide  to  Tunisia 

Speed  was  the  essence  of  the  plan  to  seize  Tunisia,  for  a  bare  hundred 
miles  from  the  big  prizes  of  Bizerte  and  Tunis  lay  the  great  Axis  base  of 
Sicily.  And  from  Sicily,  on  9  November,  the  morrow  of  the  Allies* 
D-day,  the  Germans  made  their  own  invasion  of  French  Africa— to  get 
a  rather  better  reception.  They  came  in  their  three-motored  Ju-52 
transports,  landed  at  El  Aouina,  Tunis'  municipal  airdrome,  and  were 
welcomed  at  the  orders  of  Adm.  Jean-Pierre  Esteva,  resident-general 
of  Tunisia.^^ 

Another  factor,  besides  the  proximity  and  energy  of  the  Axis  forces, 
made  a  quick  eastward  thrust  imperative.  Northern  Tunisia,  character- 
ized by  mountains  and  narrow  valleys,  is  an  area  of  considerable  rain- 
fall. The  heaviest  incidence  of  this  rainfall  is  in  the  months  from  De- 
cember through  February  when  the  lowlands  experience  a  **particu- 
larly  glutinous''  mud.  The  Allies  had  therefore  only  about  a  month  of 
good  weather  in  which  to  contact  and  smash  the  Axis  build-up. 

On  9  November,  the  same  day  as  the  reception  at  El  Aouina,  Lt.  Gen. 
K.  A.  N.  Anderson  arrived  in  Algiers  to  take  charge  of  the  eastward 
push,  his  principal  instruments  being  the  British  First  Army  and  the 
RAF's  Eastern  Air  Command.  While  fighting  still  raged  at  Oran  and 
Casablanca,  Anderson  began  preparations  against  an  objective  400  miles 
away  over  a  country  broken  by  mountains  and  deficient  in  highways 
and  railroads.  In  such  circumstances,  an  orthodox  land  advance  was  out 
of  the  question.  The  First  Army,  which,  including  American  elements, 
never  mustered  more  than  the  equivalent  strength  of  one  division  and 
a  single  tank  regiment  during  the  critical  phase  of  the  first  battle  for 
Tunis,  was  to  be  rushed  forward  by  landing  craft,  motor  transport, 
and  troop  carrier  aircraft  to  seize  successive  ports  and  the  coastal  air- 
dromes to  cover  them.^* 


78 


LANDINGS    AND    THE    RACE    FOR  TUNIS 


At  the  outset,  a  spell  of  rough  sea  cost  the  Allies  two  precious  days. 
At  dawn  on  1 1  November  the  British  36  Brigade  Group  went  ashore 
unopposed  at  the  port  of  Bougie,  100  miles  east  of  Algiers,  but  an  at- 
tempted landing  at  Djidjelli,  about  30  miles  farther  along  the  coast,  was 
frustrated  by  a  heavy  swell.  Before  the  airdrome  at  Djidjelli  could  be 
secured,  enemy  aircraft  sank  two  British  transports  off  Bougie  and 
damaged  the  British  carrier  Argus,  whose  fighters,  abetted  by  RAF 
fighters  operating  at  extreme  range  from  Maison  Blanche  at  Algiers, 
were  covering  the  operation.  Next  Allied  objectives  were  Philippeville 
andBone.^^ 

The  intended  use  of  the  Paratroop  Task  Force  at  Bone  had  been 
frustrated  by  the  force's  dispersal  during  its  D-day  mission  at  Oran.  On 
the  afternoon  of  8  November,  therefore,  the  command  post  at  Gibral- 
tar ordered  a  second  paratroop  force  into  Africa.  The  next  day,  thirty- 
nine  C-47's  of  the  U.S.  64th  Group,  carrying  two  company  groups  of 
the  British  3  Paratroop  Battalion,  left  St.  Eval  for  Gibraltar.  Thirty- 
four  of  them  made  Algiers  early  on  the  morning  of  the  nth  to  be 
greeted  by  Allied  antiaircraft  fire  which  wounded  two  men.  Next 
morning,  twenty-six  of  the  troop  carriers  took  off  from  Maison 
Blanche,  and  with  fighter  escort  flew  along  the  coast  to  the  Duzerville 
airdrome,  six  miles  southeast  of  Bone,  where  3 1 2  paratroops  were  suc- 
cessfully dropped.  At  the  port  itself,  British  commandos  had  landed  un- 
opposed at  dawn,  but  when  night  came  the  GAF  bombed  the  Bone  air- 
field so  heavily  as  to  threaten  to  make  it  untenable.  This  situation  was 
somewhat  relieved  when  the  64th's  C-47's  returned  to  Bone  the  next 
day,  with  P-38  escort,  ferrying  in  gasoline  and  antiaircraft  guns.^^ 

Meanwhile,  the  Allied  commanders  were  laboring  to  bring  over  the 
hesitant  French  army  forces  in  Tunisia,  hoping  to  undo,  at  least  par- 
tially, the  effects  of  the  initial  admission  of  the  Germans.  Admiral 
Darlan  and  Gen.  Henri  Giraud  issued  orders  for  resistance  to  the  Axis, 
and  Giraud,  accompanied  by  Lt.  Gen.  Alphonse  Juin,  prepared  to 
make  a  personal  reconnaissance  of  the  Tunisian  border.  On  1 3  Novem- 
ber, the  Allies  brought  a  convoy  into  Bone  and  disembarked  BLADE 
Force,  a  British  armored  unit  which  immediately  began  operations  to 
the  east.  By  the  15  th,  elements  of  the  36  Brigade  Group  had  occupied 
Tabarka,  on  the  coast  only  sixty  miles  from  Tunis,  and  American  para- 
troops were  jumping  far  inland.^^ 

By  12  November  the  Paratroop  Task  Force  (60th  Troop  Carrier 
Group  and  2d  Battalion,  503d  U.S.  Parachute  Infantry)  had  assembled 

79 


EASTERN    ALGEaiA     AND  TUNISIA 


iBfZERTe 


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fonittf  Loftier 
19   4  8 


C  h  0  t  t    0  i  e  r  i  d 


LANDINGS   AND   THE   RACE    FOR  TUNIS 


at  Algiers  and  passed  to  the  operational  control  of  the  First  Army.  Two 
days  later  Colonel  Raff  and  Maj.  Martin  E.  Waiiamaker,  commanding 
the  transports,  were  called  to  headquarters  and  assigned  a  mission 
against  Youks-Ies-Bains  airfield,  out  near  the  Tunisian  border.  Intelli- 
gence about  the  area  was  meager,  the  reaction  of  the  local  French 
problematical,  and  enemy  patrols  might  even  be  in  possession  of  the 
field.  Nevertheless,  on  the  morning  of  the  15  th,  twenty  C-47's  left 
Maison  Blanche,  flew  with  Spitfire  escort  along  the  coast  to  DjidjeUi, 
thence  with  Hurricane  escort  south;  the  formation  was  at  one  point 
forced  onto  instruments  but,  at  0945,  3 50  paratroops  were  successfully 
dropped.^®  Next  day  the  64th  carried  out  a  similar  mission  against  the 
Souk-el- Arba  airfield,  ninety  miles  up  the  Medjerda  valley  from  Tunis, 
dropping  384  British  paratroops.  This  operation  had  beeii  attempted 
on  the  15th  but  was  frustrated  by  weather.  None  of  these  paratroop 
landings  was  opposed,  nor  were  any  of  the  transports  lost  to  enemy  ac- 
tion, although  on  the  way  to  Souk-el- Arba  the  64th  had  watched 
enemy  planes  bombing  and  strafing  the  Bone  airfield.^® 

The  Axis  was  making  a  determined  effort  to  establish  a  bridgehead 
in  Tunisia,  pouring  men  and  weapons  in  from  Sicily.  By  1 7  November 
the  hostile  establishment  at  Bizerte,  where  the  Ju-52's  were  averaging 
fifty  landings  a  day,  was  estimated  at  4,000  men,  with  an  additional 
1 ,000  in  Tunis  itself.  This  force  mustered  some  medium  tanks  and  the 
German  and  Italian  infantry  was  strong  in  antiaircraft  and  antitank 
guns.  The  enemy  had  put  about  1 50  fighters  and  dive  bombers  into  the 
Tunis  and  Bizerte  airdromes,  and  with  long-range  bombers  from  Sicily 
and  Sardinia  he  was  operating  with  some  effect  against  the  exposed 
communications  of  the  First  Army. 

After  prolonged  indecision,  the  bulk  of  the  French  forces  in  Tunisia 
came  over  to  the  Allies.  Gen.  Louis  Jacques  Barre,  commanding  the 
French  army  in  the  protectorate,  had  been  negotiating  with  the  Ger- 
man commander.  Gen.  Walter  von  Nehring,  ever  since  the  Germans 
set  foot  in  the  country.  He  now  broke  off.  The  French  began  to  harass 
the  Axis  advance,  fighting  patrol  actions  at  Oued  Zarga  and  Mateur  on 
the  1 6th.  By  the  17th  the  British  had  made  contact  with  German 
elements  at  Djebel  Abiod  on  the  coast  road.  In  the  south  Raff^s  para- 
troopers had  secured  the  cooperation  of  the  French  garrison  at  Tebessa 
and  began  to  clash  with  Italian  patrols  moving  inland  from  Sfax 
and  Gabes, 

Barre  had  agreed  that  he  would  cover  the  British  78  Division's  con- 

81 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 


centration  in  the  forward  area  and  its  right  flank  during  the  subsequent 
advance  on  Tunis.  In  the  interim,  Eisenhower  hoped  to  use  the  weak 
French  units  in  a  kind  of  psychological  warfare  against  the  Germans. 
He  urged  that  they  make  a  great  show  of  activity,  spread  rumors  of 
formidable  American  and  British  columns  in  their  immediate  rear,  and 
generally  induce  the  enemy  to  tie  himself  down  to  local  defense  of 
Tunis  and  Bizerte.  The  Germans,  however,  after  two  ultimatums, 
Nehring  to  Barre,  drove  the  ill-equipped  French  out  of  Medjez-el-Bab 
on  the  19th,  inflicting  heavy  losses  on  them  with  dive  bombers  and 
tanks.  The  78  Division  delayed  its  advance  until  it  could  build  up  forces 
and  supplies  and  deploy  the  French  to  the  south.^** 

On  19  November,  while  the  French  were  being  driven  from  Medjez- 
el-Bab  and  the  British  First  Army  was  girding  for  an  advance, 
Doolittle,  whose  air  force  had  not  yet  been  heavily  committed  to  the 
Tunisian  operation,  was  writing  a  long  letter  to  Arnold  reporting  on 
early  developments  in  Africa.^^  The  Twelfth  had  been  chiefly  occu- 
pied in  setting  up  housekeeping  and  building  strength  in  western 
Algeria  and  Morocco,  the  areas  assigned  it  by  the  TORCH  planners. 
However,  six  of  its  B-17's  had  already  inaugurated  USAAF  bombing 
of  the  Axis  forces  in  Tunisia,  the  340th  Squadron  of  the  97th  Group 
having  dumped  British  bombs  on  Sidi  Ahmed  airdrome  at  Bizerte  on 
16  November.  The  340th  had  left  England  on  the  loth,  come  into 
Maison  Blanche  on  the  13  th  after  a  two-day  stopover  at  Gibraltar,  and 
set  about  '^promoting"  transportation  and  pouring  gasoline  from  five- 
gallon  flimsies  in  preparation  for  its  first  raid.  Over  Bizerte,  its  B-17's 
reportedly  knocked  down  one  of  the  Me-109's  which  rose  to 
intercept.^~ 

In  Algeria,  the  Twelfth's  build-up  had  been  rapid:  the  area  had  even 
received  by  19  November  (D  plus  1 1 )  the  approximate  number  of  air- 
craft which  the  plans  specified  for  that  date.^^  The  two  Spitfire  groups 
(31st  and  52d)  had  successfully  cleared  Gibraltar,  much  to  Doolittle's 
relief,  and  other  units  had  flown  in  from  England  with  trifling  losses, 
lending  color  to  one  facet  of  the  AAF's  contention  that  the  two  thea- 
ters were  complementary  so  far  as  air  operations  were  concerned.  Alto- 
gether by  D  plus  1 1  there  were  in  Algeria  four  fighter  groups  minus 
one  squadron  ( ist,  14th,  3  ist,  5  2d) ,  one  light  bomber  squadron  ( 1 5th) , 
two  troop  carrier  groups,  and  two  B-17  squadrons  of  the  97  th  Group. 
A  good  many  factors,  however,  limited  the  usefulness  of  this  force. 
Its  ground  echelons  were  scattered;  airdromes  and  all  manner  of  sup- 

82 


LANDINGS    AND   THE    RACE    FOR  TUNIS 


plies  were  limited;  besides,  western  Algeria,  where  most  of  the  units 
were  situated,  was  not  an  active  theater  of  war.  In  Morocco,  General 
Cannon's  build-up  was  not  so  impressive,  chiefly  because  the  Twelfth's 
P-39's  still  languished  in  Eighth  Air  Force  depots,  but  he  had,  besides 
the  33  d,  parts  of  the  did  (troop  carrier)  and3ioth  (B-25's);and  so  far, 
with  the  pacification  of  the  French  and  the  inactivity  of  the  Spaniards, 
it  did  not  appear  likely  that  he  would  immediately  need  a  great  mass 
of  air  power/^ 

Supplies  were  being  hauled  from  the  docks  to  the  airfields,  a  great 
part  in  rejuvenated  French  vehicles,  for  the  Twelfth  was  beginning  to 
suffer  from  the  lack  of  motor  transportation  that  would  plague  it  well 
into  the  Tunisian  campaign.^^  The  French  contributed  in  other  ways, 
the  USAAF  making  good  use  of  their  weather  net^^  and  of  such  air- 
craft repair  and  erection  facilities  as  offered,  particularly  at  the  Gazes 
airdrome  at  Casablanca/'^  However,  the  French  airfields  had  not  been 
equipped  for  such  a  rush  of  visitors,  and  a  really  gorgeous  congestion 
developed  at  Oran  shortly  after  its  conquest,  Tafaraoui  and  La  Senia, 
with  accommodations  for  300  officers  and  3,000  men,  playing  host  to 
Air  Corps  contingents  about  three  times  too  large/^  A  more  serious  defi- 
ciency of  the  French  airfields  lay  in  their  general  lack  of  all-weather 
facilities— hardstands  and  hard-surfaced  taxiways  and  runways.  In  the 
area  from  Casablanca  to  the  Tunisian  border,  there  were  just  four  air- 
dromes with  hard-surfaced  runways  of  any  description:  Port  Lyautey, 
Tafaraoui,  Maison  Blanche,  and  Bone/^  This  factor  was  to  assume  con- 
trolling importance  when  the  winter  rains  set  in. 

Despite  the  fact  that  the  Eastern  Air  Command  was,  on  paper, 
mainly  responsible  for  air  cooperation  with  the  First  Army,  it  was  a 
foregone  conclusion  that  the  Twelfth  would  be  ordered  into  the 
Tunisian  battle,  especially  since  no  threat  had  developed  to  the  LQC 
through  the  Strait  of  Gibraltar.  Such  a  movement  would  naturally  have 
to  be  coordinated  with  Air  Marshal  Welsh's  plans,  since  he  had  juris- 
diction over  the  eastern  area.  On  19  November,  Doolittle,  whose  units 
were  soon  to  be  released  from  the  control  of  the  task  force  comman- 
ders,^^ was  in  Algiers  on  that  errand;  he  expected  a  conference  with  the 
air  marshal  before  the  day  was  out.  Meanwhile,  he  had  evolved  his  own 
ideas  for  the  organization  and  employment  of  the  Twelfth.^^ 

Before  the  invasion,  when  the  intention  was  to  deploy  the  Twelfth 
mainly  in  the  western  area,  it  had  been  anticipated  that  air  force  head- 
quarters, together  with  fighter  and  bomber  command  headquarters, 

83 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES  IN  WORLD  WAR  II 

would  be  at  Oran  and  that  XII  Air  Support  Command  with  observa- 
tion, light  bombardment,  and  troop  carrier  wings  would  be  attached  to 
the  American  Fifth  Army.^^  By  19  November,  Doolittle  had  made 
some  radical  departures  from  this  idea.*'^  He  saw  that  he  had  two  prin- 
cipal responsibilities:  to  get  his  striking  force  into  eastern  Algeria  and 
Tunisia  and  to  be  prepared  to  combat  hostile  moves  jeopardizing  the 
safety  of  the  LOG  through  Gibraltar.  Therefore  he  planned  to  break 
up  the  vast  African  area  into  districts  and  install  in  each  a  composite 
command,  capable  of  operating  both  fighters  and  bombers  as  strategic 
circumstances  dictated.  These  flexible  commands  were  to  be  under 
direct  control  of  ah:  force  headquarters  and  their  staffs  were  to  be 
derived  from  existing  air  force  organizations;  XII  Air  Support  Com- 
mand was  to  be  left  temporarily  at  Casablanca;  XII  Fighter  Command 
would  function  at  Oran;  XII  Bomber  Command  was  to  be  placed  some- 
where south  of  Bone.  The  Algiers  area  would  be  administered  by 
Twelfth  Air  Force  headquarters  itself —the  advance  headquarters  of  the 
Twelfth  was  at  Algiers  by  the  1 8th  and  the  headquarters  at  Taf araoui 
seems  to  have  been  closed  by  the  28th.®* 

Doolittle's  hope  that  his  bomber  command  might  be  assigned  a  sector 
farther  east  was  gratified  on  the  20th  when  Forward  AFHQ  approved 
the  use  of  Constantine  as  headquarters,  indicating  it  to  be  the  only 
available  location  with  the  communications  to  support  such  an  echelon; 
Claude  Duncan,  the  bomber  commander,  began  making  his  prepara- 
tions.^^ Moreover,  Welsh  decided  to  deploy  Doolittle's  P-38's  (14th 
Group)  and  DB-7's  (15th  Bombardment  Squadron),  which  were  at 
Algiers  ready  for  action,  in  the  Tebessa— Youks-les-Bains  area,  from 
which  Raff's  paratroopers  and  their  new-found  French  friends  were 
operating.^^  Doolittle  got  his  C-47's  busy  ferrying  supplies  into 
Youks.^*^  The  two  U.S.  Spitfire  groups  were  left  for  the  time  being  at 
Oran  as  a  reserve  for  the  Spits  of  the  Eastern  Air  Command.^®  The 
early  configuration  of  the  Twelfth  Air  Force  was  taking  shape. 

On  21  November  one  squadron  of  the  14th  Group  moved  down  to 
Youks  and  immediately  found  itself  engaged  with  an  enemy  force 
moving  on  Gafsa.  Two  strafing  missions  were  flown  against  the  column 
the  first  day,  six  P-38's  being  lost  when  they  attempted  to  land  at  Youks 
after  dark.^^  Soon  afterwards,  the  15th  Squadron  joined  the  P-38's, 
each  DB-7  carrying  two  500-pounders  down  from  Maison  Blanche 
with  an  eye  to  immediate  operations,  and  passed  under  the  control  of 
the  i4th's  commander,  Col.  Thayer  Olds,  and  XII  Fighter  Command. 

84 


LANDINGS   AND   THE   RACE    FOR  TUNIS 


For  a  long  time  the  units  at  Youks  were  to  be  dependent  on  air 
transport.®^ 

One  of  the  first  reverses  sustained  by  the  Twelfth  occurred  when 
the  GAF  and  lAF  drove  its  B-17's  out  of  the  Algiers  region.  On  the 
19th,  before  they  left  for  Youks,  the  14th  Group's  P-38's  had  escorted 
the  97  th  down  to  Tunis,  where,  according  to  Doolittle,  the  bombers 
destroyed  eight  aircraft  on  the  El  Aouina  airdrome,  neither  B-17's  nor 
escort  suffering  loss.®^  But  the  enemy  was  pounding  Algiers  nightly 
from  Sardinia.  On  the  night  of  the  20th  he  outdid  himself  at  Maison 
Blanche.  With  a  force  estimated  at  upwards  of  thirty  Ju-87's  and  88's, 
he  destroyed  four  Spits,  three  Beaufighters,  two  P-38's,  a  B-17,  and  an 
entire  RAF  photo  reconnaissance  unit.  No  interception  could  be  made 
as  no  Allied  fighters  possessed  aerial  interception  equipment.  Eisen- 
hower worried  over  these  raids  as  Algiers  abounded  with  targets,  and 
he  immediately  appealed  to  the  CCS  and  the  Air  Ministry  for  night 
fighter,  radar,  and  balloon  units.®^ 

Spaatz,  who  was  on  a  tour  of  the  area,  had  inspected  Maison  Blanche 
on  the  1 8th  and  concluded  that  it  was  too  exposed  for  heavy  bombers.^^ 
He  conferred  with  Eisenhower  at  Gibraltar  the  next  day,  and  a  cable 
went  forward  from  the  command  post  suggesting  to  Clark  and  Welsh 
that  the  B-17's  be  moved  to  Tafaraoui,  where  maintenance  would  be 
easier.  From  Tafaraoui  the  B-17's  could  still  reach  Tunis,  picking  up 
escort  at  Maison  Blanche  or  at  a  more  advanced  base.  Not  until  still  an- 
other night  raid  had  claimed  an  additional  B-17  were  the  heavies  moved 
out,  on  22  November.  Thenceforth,  until  mid-December,  they  oper- 
ated from  Tafaraoui,  where,  as  the  famous  rhyme  had  it,  the  mud  was 
"deep  and  gooey."®* 

Repulse  before  Tunis 

Having  straightened  out  a  considerable  mixture  of  French  and 
British  troops  and  arranged  the  French  role  in  the  forthcoming  hostili- 
ties, Anderson  launched  his  offensive  on  the  24th  with  the  line  of 
Tebourba-Mateur  as  the  first  objective— the  ultimate  plan  being  to 
drive  a  wedge  between  Tunis  and  Bizerte,  capture  the  former,  and  hem 
in  the  Axis  forces  on  the  northernmost  tip  of  Tunisia.  Progress  was  at 
first  steady.  On  the  morning  of  the  26th  the  78  Division  flanked  and 
captured  Medjez-el-Bab,  while  BLADE  Force  advanced  to  a  point 
midway  between  Mateur  and  Tebourba.  On  the  night  of  the  26th  Te- 
bourba  itself  was  taken,  and  counterattacks  employing  tanks  and  dive 

85 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES  IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


bombers  were  beaten  off.  Djedeida,  from  which  the  ridge  of  the  Kasba 
at  Tunis  could  be  seen,  only  sixteen  miles  away,  was  reached  by 
thezSth.^^ 

The  Eastern  Air  Command  was  covering  the  advance  primarily 
from  Souk-el- Arba  and  had  brought  a  squadron  of  Bisleys  (Blenheim 
V's)  into  Canrobert  for  night  bombing  operations  against  the  bridge- 
head. To  bolster  its  air  defense  of  much-bombed  Bone,  Doolittle  lent 
the  zd  Squadron  of  his  5 id  Group,  which  arrived  at  the  airfield  on  27 
November.  Until  the  2d  retired  from  Bone  on  1 1  January  1943,  it  was 
at  times  altogether  out  of  touch  with  the  Twelfth  Air  Force,  such  a 
situation  arising  with  many  units  during  the  hectic  early  days.^^ 
Although  for  one  reason  or  another  Operation  BREASTPLATE,  a 
coordinated  landing  at  Sousse  by  part  of  the  Malta  garrison,  had  been 
abandoned,  Malta  was  contributing  substantially  to  Anderson's  drive. 
Reinforced  with  Beaufighter  and  Wellington  squadrons  from  the 
Middle  East,  its  air  establishment  had  passed  to  the  offensive,  striking  at 
ports,  airdromes,  and  airborne  and  seaborne  reinforcements  in  the 
Sicily-Sardinia-Tunisia  triangle.^^ 

During  the  First  Army's  advance,  the  Allied  bomber  effort  from 
Algeria,  whether  by  Bisleys,  B-17's,  or  DB-7's,  was  mostly  directed— 
by  Anderson— against  the  principal  Tunisian  airfields  in  the  hope  of 
crippling  the  enemy  air  strength.  After  their  removal  to  Tafaraoui, 
however,  the  B-17's  made  one  attempt  to  strike  at  Cagliari/Elmas  air- 
drome in  Sardinia,  a  base  for  the  attacks  on  the  Algerian  littoral,  only 
to  be  frustrated  by  weather.  Next  day,  on  the  24th,  the  heavies  were 
turned  back  from  Bizerte,  again  by  clouds.®^  It  was  reported  that  the 
weathermen  were  having  difficulty  with  their  forecasts  because  of  the 
mass  of  enemy  territory  to  the  north.®^  Soon  P-38's  began  to  be  used 
on  early-morning  weather  reconnaissance  of  the  general  target  area. 
On  the  28th,  thirty-seven  B-17's,  including  a  contingent  from  the 
newly  arrived  301st  Group,  bombed  the  Bizerte  airdrome  and  the  ad- 
jacent docks  without  escort,  provoking  an  air  battle  with  a  mixture  of 
Me-109's  and  FW-190's  in  which  claims  of  ten  enemy  fighters  de- 
stroyed were  assessed  as  against  two  bombers  shot  down.*^*^  From 
Tafaraoui  to  Bizerte  is  almost  600  miles.  The  B-17's  were  operating  at 
close  to  their  maximum  tactical  radius.  For  any  aircraft  short  of  gas  on 
the  return  leg,  however,  there  were  many  friendly  airdromes  east  of 
Oran,  particularly  Maison  Blanche,  where  one  squadron  of  P-38's  of 
the  ist  Fighter  Group  was  being  assembled  for  bomber  escort.  On  25 

86 


LANDINGS   AND   THE   RACE    FOR  TUNIS 

November,  another  of  the  ist's  squadrons,  the  94th,  had  been  sent 
down  to  reinforce  the  14th  Group  at  Youks-les-Bains.'^^ 

The  remote  units  at  Youks  at  first  were  fighting  their  own  air  war, 
ranging  down  to  the  Tunisian  east  coast  where,  on  the  24th,  the  P-38's 
had  a  field  day  against  German  and  Italian  transport  aircraft  near 
Gabes.  They  protected  the  Allied  force  in  central  Tunisia,  consisting 
of  six  French  battalions  and  Raff's  reinforced  paratroop  battalion, 
which  in  turn  protected  the  extreme  right  of  the  First  Army  in  the 
north.  The  American  air  units  at  Youks,  however,  soon  found  their 
principal  targets  in  the  area  affected  by  the  main  push  at  Tunis  and  Bi- 
zerte,  although  at  times  conflicts  developed  between  the  requirements 
of  the  two  sectors.  On  27  November  the  Youks  aircraft  were  made 
available  to  the  British  78  Division  operating  forward  of  Medjez- 
el-Bab." 

On  28  November  the  Anglo-American  force  pushing  at  Djedeida 
and  Mateur  seemed  about  to  break  through  the  crust  of  the  skillful 
German  defense,  despite  intensive  bombing  by  Ju-87's  and  Ju-88's. 
The  situation  report  for  that  date  was  particularly  optimistic,  describ- 
ing heavy  enemy  tank  losses,  Djedeida  being  cleaned  up,  Pont-du-Fahs 
evacuated,  enemy  supplies  abandoned  and  burning.  At  this  point  a 
paratroop  attack  was  ordered  for  the  29th  against  the  area  immediately 
southwest  of  Tunis.*^^  The  principal  objective  was  evidently  Oudna 
airdrome,  ten  miles  from  the  capital;  Oudna  captured  and  any  stores 
and  aircraft  there  destroyed,  the  paratroops  were  to  infiltrate  the  south- 
ern approaches  to  Tunis;  eventually  they  would  link  up  with  the  ad- 
vancing Allied  army.*^* 

Under  the  personal  command  of  Col.  P,  L.  WilHams,  the  drop  was 
made  between  1330  and  1400  hours  at  Depienne,  ten  miles  northeast  of 
Pont-du-Fahs.  Forty-four  C-47's  from  the  62 d  and  64th  Groups  par- 
ticipated; they  took  off  from  Maison  Blanche,  carrying  530  men  of  the 
British  i  Parachute  Brigade.  Escort  was  furnished  initially  by  Hurri- 
canes and  P-38's,  later  joined  by  Spits.  No  air  opposition  developing, 
the  C-47's  all  came  safely  back.  Not  so  the  paratroops.  Five  days  later 
what  remained  of  them  got  back  to  the  Allied  lines— lines  which  had 
not  advanced  as  planned— with  the  report:  Oudna  had  been  heavily  de- 
fended; tanks  and  armored  cars  had  put  in  an  appearance.  This  was  the 
last  major  paratroop  operation  in  the  North  African  campaign.'^^ 

The  drive  on  Tunis  was  in  fact  stalled.  Djedeida,  it  turned  out,  had 
not  been  completely  occupied  and  the  36  Brigade  was  still  involved 

87 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 

northwest  of  Mateur.  Welsh  ordered  further  attacks  on  enemy  airfields 
to  destroy,  if  possible,  the  enemy  front-line  air  superiority.  Anderson 
meanwhile  prepared  to  resume  the  offensive  as  soon  as  Combat  Com- 
mand B,  U.S.  I  St  Armored  Division,  could  come  upj^ 

A  small  force  of  B-26's  from  the  319th  Group  arrived  at  Maison 
Blanche  in  time  for  these  operations,  after  a  series  of  mishaps  which 
culminated  when  the  group  commander  was  shot  down  over  Cher- 
bourg in  transit  from  the  United  Kingdom  to  Africa.  On  the  28th, 
upon  finding  Kairouan  airdrome  unoccupied,  the  319th  attacked  Sfax 
harbor  from  1,000  feet,  several  of  the  B-26's  coming  down  for  straf- 
ing runs.  On  the  30th,  nine  of  its  planes  attacked  the  Gabes  airdrome 
and  called  on  one  of  XII  Fighter  Command's  DB-7's  from  Youks  to 
land  and  rescue  the  crew  of  a  B- 2  6  shot  down  in  enemy  territory  by 
the  light  flak  over  the  field. The  DB-7's  were  also  hammering  the 
enemy  airdromes:  Gabes  on  the  29th  and  El  Aouina  on  i  December; 
the  P-38's  escorted  them  on  two  attacks  on  Djedeida,  besides  perform- 
ing their  own  sweeps  and  reconnaissance  missions."^^  On  the  30th  the 
B-17's,  already  beginning  to  be  hampered  by  Tafaraoui's  mud,  bombed 
Bizerte's  north  quay,  a  target  radioed  back  by  Eisenhower  from  the 
front,  but  the  clouds  prevented  more  than  a  third  of  the  pay  load  from 
being  dropped.  On  the  ist,  however,  the  97th  Group  made  an  effective 
strike  on  El  Aouina,  achieving  bursts  on  the  hangar  line  and  the  built- 
up  area  of  the  field.^^ 

General  Anderson's  offensive  with  Combat  Command  B  never  came 
off.  Nehring  anticipated  him  on  i  December,  striking  in  the  direction 
of  Tebourba  from  the  north.  Much-battered  BLADE  Force  withdrew 
towards  Tebourba  and  Combat  Command  B  replaced  it,  in  a  defensive 
role.  In  the  early  hours  of  the  2d,  Anderson  sent  a  worried  radio  back 
to  Eisenhower.®^  He  stated  that  if  he  did  not  take  either  Tunis  or 
Bizerte  within  the  next  few  days  a  temporary  withdrawal  was  manda- 
tory. Three  factors,  said  the  general,  were  responsible:  administration, 
the  enemy's  air  action,  and  his  rate  of  reinforcement.  Normal  adminis- 
tration had  been  intentionally  disregarded  in  the  race  for  Tunis,  the 
army  and  air  forces  working  with  precarious  communications  and  no 
reserve  supplies,  their  line  of  communication  additionally  burdened 
by  the  movement  of  French  troops  and  stores.  Anderson  confirmed 
that  what  Eisenhower  had  feared  and  warned  against  had  come  to 
pass:  the  German  build-up  in  Tunisia  exceeded  that  of  the  Allies. 

The  British  commander  believed,  however,  that  enemy  air  action 

88 


LANDINGS    AND   THE   RACE    FOR  TUNIS 


had  exercised  the  greatest  effect  in  bogging  his  advance;  and  he  recog- 
nized that  for  "geographical  reasons"  his  supporting  air  units  could 
not  deal  with  the  situation.  What  Anderson  referred  to  as  enemy  air 
action  was  the  persistent  dive  bombing  of  his  forward  troops.  Strangely 
enough,  the  obsolescent  Ju-87's,  the  Stukas  which  had  suffered  so  much 
at  the  hands  of  the  RAF,  ME,  could  claim  a  great  deal  of  the  credit  for 
the  First  Army's  discomfiture.  The  geographical  reason  for  his  own  air 
forces'  disability  was  the  lack  of  forward  airdromes. 

The  GAF  and  its  satellite  lAF  were  excellently  disposed  to  support 
the  defense  of  Tunisia.  Besides  their  Sicilian  and  Sardinian  bases,  they 
enjoyed  on  the  mainland  the  use  of  the  all-weather  fields  at  Sidi  Ahmed 
and  El  Aouina  and  of  the  coastal  airfields  to  the  south  at  Sfax,  Sousse, 
and  Gabes.  Moreover,  their  ground  arm  had  seized  the  Tunisian  plains, 
of  which  large  areas  were  usable,  almost  without  preparation,  as  land- 
ing grounds.  The  Germans  based  their  Stukas  at  El  Aouina,  barely  a 
score  of  miles  from  the  front  at  D jedeida,  and,  since  the  plane  was  light, 
at  landing  grounds  and  in  open  fields  just  beyond  the  range  of  Allied 
artillery.  Army  calls  for  support,  made  by  voice  radio  in  the  clear, 
could  be  answered  within  five  to  ten  minutes. 

The  Eastern  Air  Command  and  the  Twelfth  could  have  demon- 
strated the  Ju-87's  obsolescence,  as  the  Allied  air  in  the  Middle  East  had 
done,  had  they  been  able  to  get  at  it  in  strength.  But,  in  late  November, 
they  were  operating  from  just  three  forward  fields:  Bone,  1 20  miles 
from  the  lines,  and  Youks  and  Souk-el- Arba,  1 50  and  70  miles  back,  re- 
spectively—the last  two  frequently  mudded.  Nor  could  additional 
fields  be  easily  located  and  prepared,  for  the  Allies  possessed  mostly  the 
hill  country  of  Tunisia.  From  Souk-el-Arba  the  Spits  with  their  90- 
mile  "magic  circle"  radius  could  remain  over  the  battle  area  for  only 
five  to  ten  minutes.  On  their  appearance  the  GAF  pulled  out  over  the 
Gulf  of  Tunis  or  landed  its  Ju-87's  at  forward  landing  grounds  and 
parked  them  under  trees.  When  the  sweep  had  disappeared  over  the 
western  hills,  the  enemy  bombers  resumed  their  work. 

The  P-38's  at  Youks  found  the  range  more  convenient,  but  there 
were  not  enough  of  them  for  the  job.  Over  the  Allied  fighters,  which 
had  to  escort  paratroops  and  bombers  and  to  cover  the  coastal  shipping, 
the  Me-109's  and  FW-190's  were  consistently  enjoying  numerical  su- 
periority. On  sweeps  over  the  battle  area  the  Spits  and  P-38's  fre- 
quently were  hard  put  to  defend  themselves,  let  alone  scatter  the 
enemy  bombers.  Nor  was  the  weight  of  the  Allied  bomber  force 

89 


THE   ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


enough  to  knock  out  the  enemy  air  power  on  its  airdromes,  particu- 
larly since  weather  was  beginning  seriously  to  interfere.  Besides,  as 
Anderson  mentioned,  the  air  forces  were  not  only  overworked  but 
undersupplied.^^ 

On  2  December,  the  day  after  the  first  German  counterattack,  the 
Twelfth  threw  its  full  available  force  into  the  doubtful  struggle.  The 
DB-7's  at  0810,  the  B-26's  at  1059,  bombed  El  Aouina  where  at  least 
fifty  enemy  aircraft  were  counted  and  fifteen  to  twenty  damaged. 
From  Tafaraoui  the  301st  sent  eighteen  B-iy's  which  bombed  Sidi 
Ahmed  and  adjacent  Bizerte  harbor  shortly  after  1000  hours.  The 
310th  Group,  of  which  eight  B-25's  and  crews  had  accumulated  at 
Maison  Blanche,  ran  its  first  mission,  against  installations  south  of 
Gabes,  picking  up  escort  at  Youks.  The  P-38's  made  two  sweeps  in  the 
northern  area,  broke  up  a  Ju-88  bombing  formation  in  the  teeth  of  its 
Me- 1 09  escort,  and  shot  up  the  Stuka  landing  ground  at  Sidi  Tabet.^^ 

After  the  Germans,  on  the  3  d,  had  again  attacked  at  Tebourba  and 
severely  punished  the  1 1  Brigade,  Eisenhower  informed  the  CCS  that 
the  Allied  forces  needed  rest."^^  No  reserves  stood  behind  the  front,  and 
the  air  commanders  had  warned  that  their  effort  would  break  down 
completely  if  operations  continued  for  as  long  as  a  week  on  the  current 
scale— a  scale  still  not  sufficient  to  permit  an  advance.  Existing  airfields 
were  practically  bereft  of  all  manner  of  supplies;  maintenance  troops, 
warning  service,  and  AA  all  had  to  be  brought  forward  to  them;  and 
more  advanced  fields  had  to  be  occupied  and  similarly  stocked  as  a 
matter  of  first  priority.  Eisenhower  hoped  that  these  deficiencies  could 
be  somewhat  remedied  by  9  December,  which  he  set  as  target  date  for 
a  new  effort.  The  CCS  approved  his  plans  and  stressed  the  desirability 
of  a  vigorous  assault  to  deprive  the  Axis  of  the  Tunisian  base,  so  that 
Allied  forces  could  be  freed  to  take  increased  precautions  to  guard  the 
mouth  of  the  Mediterranean.^^ 

During  the  interim  when  the  Allies  would  be  gathering  strength  for 
their  9  December  push,  their  bomber  effort  was  to  be  switched  to  the 
ports  to  limit  the  rival  build-up.  On  the  3d,  the  97th  Group  had  made  an 
effective  attack  on  Bizerte  harbor,  scoring  on  the  docks  and  on  two 
ships  in  the  canal  leading  to  the  harbor  and  finding  that  the  heavy  flak 
had  greatly  increased  in  intensity.  Alerted  by  radar,  the  GAP  had 
Me-109's  up  and  waiting;  they  jumped  the  P-38  escort  at  25,000  feet, 
shot  down  three  (two  more  were  missing),  and  lost  three  of  their  own 
planes.  Although  it  had  been  intended  to  conserve  the  Allied  fighters 

90 


LANDINGS    AND    THE    RACE    FOR  TUNIS 


for  the  resumption  of  the  advance  on  the  9th,  the  continued  German 
dive  bombing  against  the  tired  troops  in  the  hills  around  Tebourba  pre- 
cluded any  rest  for  the  P-38's  and  Spits:  sweeps  and  escort  missions 
went  on.^^  On  the  5th,  the  Eastern  Air  Command  attempted  to  use  an 
advanced  fighter  landing  ground  at  Medjez-el-Bab,  which  Anderson 
had  hoped  would  alleviate  the  Stuka  problem,  but  two  planes  were  shot 
down  landing  from  a  sortie.®®  On  the  same  day,  the  Twelfth's  heavies 
bombed  the  Tunis  docks  with  a  very  respectable  degree  of  accuracy, 
and  its  B-25's  and  DB-7's  attacked  Sidi  Ahmed,  the  light  bombers'  P-38 
escort  suffering  substantial  losses  in  a  fight  with  a  larger  GAF  fighter 
formation.®^ 

Nehring  attacked  on  6  December  and  again  pierced  the  Allied  lines. 
On  the  8th,  Eisenhower  approved  Anderson's  proposal  to  withdraw  to 
a  more  defensible  position  while  the  troops  were  refitted  and  built  up 
for  another  push.  In  the  midst  of  this  movement  the  winter  rains 
arrived  with  a  vengeance,  rendering  the  terrain  off  the  roads  impassable 
and  converting  Souk-el-Arba  into  a  mudhole.  A  major  disaster  struck 
Combat  Command  B,  which  became  mired  during  the  withdrawal  and 
lost  about  four-fifths  of  its  tanks  and  artillery.  By  1 1  December,  Ander- 
son had  retired  to  the  general  line  Djebel  Abiod— Medjez-el-Bab. 

Although  Eisenhower  still  hoped  to  titke  Tunis  by  a  quick  blow  and 
planning  proceeded  for  a  time  on  this  basis,  the  Alhes  had  already  lost 
the  race.  The  D-day  for  another  attack  was  postponed  again  and  again 
by  the  December  rains  until  the  TORCH  commander,  bitterly  disap- 
pointed, gave  it  up  on  Christmas  Eve.  The  rains  which  glued  the  East- 
ern Air  Command  and  the  Twelfth  Air  Force  to  their  bases  gave  a  high 
degree  of  protection  to  the  enemy  build-up.  What  Eisenhower  aptly 
termed  the  logistical  marathon  had  begun.  TORCH  had  failed  of  com- 
plete success.®® 

Pursuit  of  Rommel 

Meanwhile,  Montgomery's  Eighth  Army,  the  victors  of  El  Ala- 
mein,*  had  advanced  into  Libya,  preceded,  in  some  haste,  by  Rommel. 
If,  thanks  to  the  rains  on  6  and  7  November,  the  Axis  forces  in  the 
Western  Desert  had  been  able  to  disengage  and  begin  a  retreat  in  good 
order,  they  nevertheless  had  sufi^ered  a  defeat  of  enormous  dimensions. 
The  year  before,  Rommel  had  merely  been  forced  to  withdraw.  His 
present  prospects  could  better  be  compared  with  Graziani's  in  1940, 

*  See  above,  pp.  33-40, 

91 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD  WAR  II 


after  the  disastrous  rout  at  Sidi  Barrani,  before  the  Germans  had  inter- 
vened in  Greece  and  Libya. 

Out  of  the  ruck  about  fifty  tanks  had  been  saved.  The  Axis  partners 
had  suffered  approximately  50,000  casualties,  left  30,000  prisoners  to 
tax  the  Middle  East's  cages.  Stores  and  equipment  in  proportion  had 
been  lost.^^  During  his  previous  retreat,  Rommel  could  count  on  recu- 
perating in  Tripolitania  while  desert  logistics  slowed  his  pursuers.  In 
November  1942  he  worried  lest  his  Tripolitanian  recuperation  would 
be  marred  by  an  Anglo-American  force  pouring  over  the  Tunisian 
borders.  To  forestall  such  a  contingency,  the  Axis  high  command  was 
rushing  troops  into  Tunis  and  Bizerte  and  occupying  in  haste  the  hin- 
terland of  the  east-coast  Tunisian  ports.  This  expedition  might  fight  off 
the  threat  to  Rommel's  rear  but,  since  Tunisia,  not  Libya,  was  the  key 
position  in  the  Mediterranean,  its  provisioning  would  inevitably  cut 
into  his  supplies.®**  His  chances  for  a  successful  stand  short  of  Tunisia 
were  not  impressive. 

The  Middle  East's  duty  in  these  circumstances  was  clear.  The  advan- 
tage, to  be  fully  exploited,  had  to  be  followed  up  and  cherished.  If 
Rommel's  forces  could  be  closely  pressed,  they  might  be  brought  to 
battle  and  destroyed,  at  least  given  little  opportunity  to  recoup;  their 
supply  lines  had  to  be  dominated  by  Allied  air  and  naval  action,  so  that 
build-up  could  be  kept  to  a  minimum;  where  possible,  aid  and  comfort 
ought  to  be  given  to  forces  under  Eisenhower  in  Northwest  Africa. 
These  grand  objectives  had  largely  to  be  accomplished  in  the  desert, 
the  "quartermaster's  hell,"  far  from  the  Egyptian  depots.  The  task  re- 
quired good  management,  for  the  amount  of  power  mustered  to  defend 
Egypt  could  not  be  brought  into  play  in  Libya.®^ 

Once  delivered  from  the  mud  south  and  east  of  Matruh,  the  Eighth 
Army  bore  down  rapidly  on  the  frontiers  of  Libya.  The  2  New  Zea- 
land cleared  Sidi  Barrani  on  9  November,  and  the  next  night  the  de- 
fenders of  Half aya  Pass  were  surprised  and  dispersed.  Bardia  was  occu- 
pied on  the  I  ith  and  Tobruk,  largely  bypassed  by  the  retreat,  on  the 
1 3  th;  energetic  action  to  clear  the  port  was  at  once  put  in  hand.  It  was 
hoped  that  Bengasi  might  be  taken  quickly  before  the  enemy  could 
complete  his  demolitions  and  bring  his  personnel  away,  but  the  Ger- 
mans were  laying  a  carpet  of  mines  faster  than  the  British  sappers  could 
roll  it  up  and,  rain  also  interfering,  the  city  was  not  entered  until  20 
November.  By  then  the  Axis  forces  were  in  the  familiar  defenses  of 

92 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

Agedabia  and  El  Agheila,  and  the  Eighth  Army  had  to  stop  to  build  up 
for  another  battle.^^ 

Although,  except  for  his  rear  guards,  Rommel  kept  his  forces  well 
out  of  reach  of  the  pursuit  during  his  career  to  Agheila,  there  was  no 
escaping  punishment  from  the  air.  By  night,  so  long  as  their  range  per- 
mitted, RAF  heavy  and  medium  bombers  attacked  the  roads;  by  day, 
fighters  and  fighter-bombers  leapfrogging  in  the  Eighth  Army's  train 
took  up  the  burden.  The  Bostons  and  Baltimores,  however,  had  not  the 
range  from  the  Egyptian  fields  and  could  neither  be  so  easily  main- 
tained nor  so  expeditiously  established  at  forward  bases;  they  tended  to 
drop  out  of  the  mission  reports  until  the  weight  of  their  attack  was 
needed  against  fixed  positions.  The  fighters,  fitted  with  extra  gas  tanks, 
became  the  shield  of  the  army  and  the  chief  tormentors  of  the 
opposition.®^ 

The  rapid  advance  of  the  air  forces  traced  not  only  to  excellent 
army-air  cooperation  and  to  the  fact  that  the  RAF  was  well  organized 
for  mobility:  landing  sites  were  numerous  in  Cyrenaica  and  their  loca- 
tion was  perfectly  known  to  the  British,  who  had  twice  before  fought 
over  the  ground.  Moreover,  the  enemy  initially  decamped  in  such  haste 
that  he  was  not  able  to  get  all  his  serviceable  aircraft  away,  let  alone  to 
mine  or  plow  his  airfields.  Not  until  Derna  was  reached  were  any  very 
formidable  obstacles  interposed  to  immediate  operations  from  newly 
occupied  landing  grounds.^^ 

In  such  wise  was  accomplished  the  long-range  punishment  of  the  re- 
treat. During  the  pursuit  to  Agheila  aerial  combat  became  something  of 
a  rarity,  as  neither  GAF  nor  lAF  could  stay  close  in  any  force  to  pro- 
tect the  army  as  had  the  RAF  the  previous  June;  for  one  thing,  they  had 
not  the  fuel.  The  1 1  th  of  November  marked  an  exception,  when  the 
AUied  air  forces  coUided  with  the  GAF  based  at  Gambut  and  El  Adem. 
The  score  reported  that  day:  eleven  Stukas,  six  Ju-52's,  and  five 
Me-109's,  against  six  Kittyhawks  and  a  P-40.  The  57th  Fighter  Group 
caught  and  destroyed  three  Stukas  about  to  land  at  Gambut.^^  The 
57th's  66th  Squadron  had  gone  forward  with  the  advance,  under  the 
operational  control  of  No.  239  Wing,  RAF.  Upon  reaching  Gazala  it 
received  orders  to  join  the  64th  and  65th  Squadrons  at  Martuba.  By  20 
November,  therefore,  in  company  with  the  RAF's  1 1 2  Squadron,  the 
group  was  in  action  for  the  first  time  as  a  tactical  unit;^^  between  6  No- 
vember and  the  end  of  the  month  it  carried  out  the  impressive  total  of 


94 


LANDINGS   AND   THE    RACE    FOR  TUNIS 


477  sorties.^^  How  it  kept  up  with 
lowing  table 

Eighth  Army's  Advance 


5-6  Nov.  Fuka  Escarpment 

8  Matruh 

9  Sidi  Barrani 
1 1  Halfaya 

1 3  Tobruk 

ZD  Bengasi 


the  advance  is  illustrated  by  the  f ol- 

Occupation  of  Landing  Grounds 
by  the  sith  Fighter  Group 

5  Nov.  Daba 

9  Sidi  Hanaish 

I  z  Sidi  Azeiz 

1 3  Gambut 

16  Martuba 


Air  transports  were  used  when  long  moves  became  necessary.  The 
results  qualified  at  times  as  spectacular.  On  1 3  November  two  squad- 
rons of  Hurricanes  moved  into  a  landing  ground  180  miles  east  of 
Agedabia,  beyond  the  Axis  army.  Before  withdrawing  on  the  i6th, 
the  Hurricanes  were  able  to  attack  the  enemy's  leading  columns  with 
some  effect.  By  that  time  Coningham's  fighters,  operating  from  Gam- 
but, had  designs  on  the  Ju-52's,  which,  because  of  the  dearth  of  M/T 
and  fuel,  were  being  extensively  employed  in  the  evacuation  of  Ben- 
gasi. Nearly  forty  aircraft,  mostly  transport,  were  reported  destroyed 
in  the  two  days  succeeding.^® 

It  was  a  foregone  conclusion  that  once  its  armies  were  broken  in 
Egypt  the  Axis  would  find  Cyrenaica  untenable  and  would  again  seek 
refuge  in  the  Agheila  defenses,  Tripoli  then  becoming  the  main  port  of 
entry.  Consequently,  plans  were  early  developed  to  bring  IX  Bomber 
Command  within  range  of  the  Libyan  capital,  and  the  army  accepted 
the  added  strain  on  its  LOC.^^^  The  two  heavy  groups  had  already 
moved  their  permanent  stations  from  Palestine  to  Egypt— Abu  Sueir, 
Fayid,  and  El  Kabrit— and  had  bombed  Tobruk  and  Bengasi  as  long  as 
there  was  profit  in  it.  As  a  forward  base  LG  1 39  at  Gambut  offered  the 
desired  facilities. 

LG  1 39,  or  Gambut  Main  as  it  was  known,  had  been  a  major  Italian 
air  base,  convenient  to  Tobruk,  some  thirty  miles  west  along  the  coast 
road,  and  six  miles  from  a  railhead.  Shortly  before  the  Italians  left  they 
had  thoughtfully  joined  two  adjacent  fields  and  so  provided  IX  Bomber 
Command  with  well  over  the  2,000-foot  runway  its  heavies  required. 
Late  in  November  a  small  camp  was  built  by  a  detachment  from  the 
98th  Group,  with  spare  tents  set  up  for  combat  crews  which  might  be 
benighted  there.  Gambut's  fuel  added  over  300  miles  to  the  B-24's  tacti- 
cal radius;  Tunisia,  Sicily,  and  Italy  now  could  be  included  in  the  com- 
mand's targets.^^^ 


95 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


The  first  blow  at  Tripoli  was  a  double  one  on  2 1  November.  The 
first  mission  hit  a  ship,  which  was  being  towed  smoking  from  the  harbor 
entrance  when  the  376th  Group  came  in  a  few  hours  later  to  lay  bombs 
on  the  principal  mole.  The  RAF's  1 60  Squadron  presently  beginning 
night  attacks,  Tripoli  attained  the  status  of  a  regular  port  of  call.^^^  IX 
Bomber  next  reached  out  for  Naples.  On  4  December,  twenty  B-24's 
attacked  the  docks  and  Italian  fleet  units  in  the  harbor.  The  crews 
claimed  hits  and  near  misses  on  shipping,  and  preliminary  reconnais- 
sance supported  them,  showing  a  cruiser  lying  on  its  side  and  extensive 
damage  to  harbor  installations.  On  the  next  visit,  a  B-24  was  brought 
down  by  AA,  and  the  subsequently  strengthened  Naples  defenses  began 
to  remind  the  veteran  160  Squadron  of  nights  over  the  Ruhr.^^^ 

As  early  as  1 8  November,  while  Eisenhower  was  still  at  his  Gibraltar 
command  post,  he  had  received  a  radio  from  Andrews  saying  that  he 
intended  sending  Brereton  to  establish  personal  contact  with  the 
Northwest  African  command,^^^  and  on  the  25  th,  Tedder,  Brereton, 
and  Timberlake  took  off  for  Malta,  where  they  were  received  at  Luca 
airdrome  by  Air  Vice  Marshal  Sir  Keith  Park.  Park  conducting  a  tour 
of  the  island,  Brereton  and  Timberlake  saw  that  it  would  be  impracti- 
cable to  base  B-24's  on  Malta  as  Brereton  had  suggested  in  his  August 
strategic  estimate.  Although  every  level  space  on  the  island  appeared  to 
have  been  converted  into  a  landing  ground,  only  asphalt-surfaced  Luca 
was  big  enough  to  handle  heavy  bombers.  Park  then  accompanied  the 
party  to  the  Algiers  conferences.^^® 

While  a  tightening  aerial  noose  was  being  prepared  for  the  Axis 
forces  in  Africa,  Montgomery  was  considering  ways  and  means  of 
occupying  Agheila,  the  gateway  to  Cyrenaica,  the  springboard  from 
which  the  Axis  had  twice  rebounded  to  threaten  Egypt.  Except  for 
having  flanked  the  enemy  out  of  Agedabia  on  23  November,  after  the 
capture  of  Bengasi  the  Eighth  Army  had  been  mostly  concerned  with 
its  build-up.  At  first  the  bulk  of  its  stores  had  to  be  trucked  from 
Tobruk,  but  by  i  December,  Bengasi  was  handling  nearly  i  ,000  tons 
daily,  a  figure  which  had  doubled  two  weeks  later  as  intensive  efforts 
were  expended  on  increasing  capacity.  By  the  end  of  November, 
Montgomery  was  touring  the  forward  area,  developing  a  plan.^^"^ 

The  strong  Agheila  position  presented  Rommel  with  his  first  oppor- 
tunity for  a  successful  stand,  and  had  he  been  able  fully  to  exploit  its 
potentialities,  the  Eighth  Army  might  have  been  tested  severely. 
Heavily  mined,  it  covered  the  desert  between  the  sea  and  the  Wadi 

96 


LANDINGS   AND   THE   RACE   FOR  TUNIS 

Faregh,  south  of  which  lay  a  large  area  unsuitable  for  maneuver.  Mont- 
gomery decided  to  bypass  this  difficult  area  by  a  wide  detour  to  the 
south  and  push  his  New  Zealanders  to  the  coast  behind  the  Germans. 
The  flanking  movement  would  be  coordinated  with  a  two-division 
frontal  attack.^^^ 

The  British  intended  to  move  on  14  December  and  began  prepara- 
tions—large-scale raids  and  heavy  air  and  artillery  action.  Lacking  mo- 
bility (fuel)  to  counter  the  flank  attack  which  he  feared— he  and 
Kesselring  had  told  Goering  in  Rome  on  30  November  that  the  posi- 
tion could  not  be  held— Rommel  began  to  pull  out  on  the  night  of  the 
1 2  th,  with  the  90th  Light  as  his  rear  guard.  Nevertheless,  on  1 5  Decem- 
ber the  2  New  Zealand,  swinging  into  the  coast  from  the  desert,  found 
the  90th  and  most  of  the  enemy  armor  still  to  the  east.  Menaced  by  the 
7  Armoured  at  its  back,  the  rear  guard  broke  into  small  detachments 
and  won  through;  but  it  lost  20  tanks  and  some  500  prisoners.^^^ 

The  American  components  of  the  Western  Desert  Air  Force  were 
especially  active  during  these  operations.  The  P-40's  had  joined  with 
the  RAF*s  light  bombers  in  preliminary  assaults  on  the  enemy  landing 
grounds  around  Marble  Arch,  which  attacks  had  the  effect  of  driving 
the  enemy  air  force  ninety  miles  behind  the  Agheila  line.^^^  Once  the 
enemy  broke  to  the  west  again,  there  were  good  targets  along  the  coast 
road,  although  not  to  compare  with  those  after  Alamein.  On  the  15th 
heavy  formations  of  USAAF  B-25's  and  RAF  Bostons  and  Baltimores 
hit  motor  vehicle  concentrations  on  the  coast  road  west  of  Marble 
Arch.  Next  day  the  12  th  Group  bombed  again,  in  the  Nufilia  area, 
where  on  the  1 7th  the  New  Zealanders  had  a  sharp  engagement  with 
the  Axis  rear  guard.  At  this  point,  contact  with  the  enemy  was  lost, 
both  in  the  air  and  on  the  ground,  administration  and  the  scarcity  of 
landing  grounds  being  responsible.  Rommel  went  back  to  Buerat 
el  Hsun.111 

By  mid-December,  by  checking  the  Allies  in  the  Medjerda  valley, 
the  Axis  forces  in  Tunisia  had  temporarily  secured  Rommel's  rear. 
Moreover,  the  Tunisian  ports  were  replacing  bomb-battered  Tripoli 
as  Rommel's  main  dependence  for  supply:  Middle  East  estimates 
showed  he  was  already  drawing  less  than  half  his  daily  maintenance  re- 
quirements through  the  Libyan  capital  and  the  intake  there  would 
probably  lessen  as  the  larger  ships  abandoned  the  run.  By  1 2  December 
the  Axis  had  decided  that  Tripoli  was  too  near  the  front  for  big  ships. 
Tunis,  Bizerte,  Sousse,  Sf ax,  and  the  railroad  to  Gabes  took  on  new  im- 


97 


THE   ARMY  AIR   FORCES    IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

portance  on  the  Cairo  maps.^^^  In  these  circumstances  the  cooperation 
between  the  Middle  East's  air  forces  and  those  under  Eisenhower  in 
Northwest  Africa,  set  under  way  and  fostered  by  Tedder's  visits  to 
Algiers  (he  undertook  another  in  mid-December),  began  to  get  con- 
crete results.  Cables  began  arriving  at  Twelfth  Air  Force  from  Brere- 
ton  inquiring  what  airdromes  in  Northwest  Africa  were  available  for 
crippled  B-24's  and  requesting  that  diversions  be  flown  for  IX 
Bomber's  attacks  on  Tunis  or  Sfax.^^^ 

An  earnest  of  this  cooperation  was  the  appearance  in  the  Western 
Desert  of  the  93d  Bombardment  Group  (H),  attached  to  the  Ninth 
Air  Force  by  orders  of  18  December.^^^  The  93d  had  been  borrowed 
by  AFHQ  from  the  Eighth  Air  Force,  had  run  a  pair  of  missions 
against  Bizerte  from  Taf araoui,  and  was  lent  by  the  Twelfth  Air  Force 
because  its  long-range  B-24's  could  be  better  employed  in  the  Middle 
East.^^^  On  16  December,  General  Timberlake  was  on  hand  at  Gambut 
to  welcome  the  93  d  and  its  commander,  his  brother,  CoL  Edward  J. 
Timberlake.  The  93d  took  over  Gambut  Main,  and  the  advance  base 
of  the  Delta  groups  had  to  be  moved  to  LG  159,  five  miles  west;  the 
1 2th  Group,  in  turn  displaced,  transferred  to  LG  142,  not  far  away.^^^ 
As  part  of  the  transaction  involving  the  93d,  nine  ancient  B-17's  which 
Brereton  had  brought  from  India  were  sent  to  the  Twelfth  Air  Force. 
Their  limited  range  and  different  performance  characteristics  had 
made  them  unsuitable  for  combined  operations  with  the  B-24's.  Their 
last  mission  in  the  Middle  East  had  been  against  Portolago  Bay  in  the 
Dodecanese  on  27  November;  on  that  occasion  the  crews  had  reported 
fires  and  explosions  and  hits  on  two  merchant  vessels.^^^ 

The  Ninth  Air  Force's  campaign  against  the  Tunisian  ports  opened 
most  auspiciously  on  15  December  when  nine  B-24D's  of  the  376th 
Group  obliterated  the  roundhouse  at  Sfax.^^^  Thereafter  until  Christ- 
mas bad  weather  played  hob  with  operations.  But  when  it  cleared  after 
the  holiday,  Tunis,  Sousse  (where  three  merchant  vessels,  the  Ar- 
?nando,  Anna  Maria,  and  Giuseppo  Leva  fell  victim  to  the  B-24's),  and 
Sfax  were  attacked  and  the  98th  celebrated  New  Year's  Day  by  drop- 
ping HE  on  Tunis  harbor.^^^  The  Twelfth  Air  Force's  bombers  in 
January  started  a  specialized  effort  against  the  coastal  railroad,  which, 
however^  did  not  yield  spectacular  results.^^** 

Meanwhile,  an  excursion  of  some  proportions  was  being  planned  to 
the  Cretan  airfields  from  which  issued  the  bombers  attacking  the  Malta 
convoys  and  the  harbors  at  Tobruk  and  Bengasi  (from  the  advance 

98 


LANDINGS   AND   THE    RACE    FOR  TUNIS 


base  at  Gambut,  IX  Bomber  Command  could  watch  the  fireworks  at- 
tending the  night  raids  on  Tobruk) .  For  this  operation,  which  could  be 
expected  to  draw  GAF  fighters  away  from  Tunisia  and  Sicily,  the 
B-25*s  of  the  1 2th  Group  came  under  operational  control  of  IX  Bomb- 
er Command,  and  205  Group's  Baltimores  at  Derna  were  to  cooperate. 
What  befell  the  B-25's  on  this  mission  was  not  untypical  of  the  hazards 
of  operations  from  a  desert. 

The  1 2th  Group  had  prepared  for  three  weeks.  Since  fighter  protec- 
tion was  not  possible  to  so  distant  a  target,  a  high-altitude  (19,000  feet) 
attack  was  chosen.  To  gain  that  altitude  it  was  necessary  to  remove  the 
dust  screens  from  all  engines.  About  a  quarter  of  an  hour  before  take- 
off on  2  January  up  blew  a  dust  storm,  and  only  twelve  of  a  projected 
thirty-six  B-25's  got  away;  of  these  one  turned  back.  Eleven  bombed; 
two,  force-landing  at  sea,  were  lost  (RAF  Air  Sea  Rescue  saved  the 
crews) ;  and,  excessive  gas  consumption  being  general  for  one  reason 
or  another,  several  others  made  land  but  not  the  base.  Fifty  engine 
changes  were  necessary  after  the  dust  storm.  The  B-24's  and  Baltimores 
redeemed  matters  somewhat  by  blasting  Suda  Bay  and  Tymbakia  and 
Kastelli  Pediada  airdromes.^^^ 

The  passing  months  had  wrought  some  changes  in  the  Ninth  Air 
Force.  On  4  January  1943,  Adler  turned  over  to  Col.  Robert  Kauch  an 
air  service  command  considerably  enlarged  from  the  organization  of 
June  1942  which  had  existed  largely  on  paper.  Two  new  service 
groups,  the  306th  and  the  3 15th,  had  arrived  and  were  assigned  to  the 
heavy  groups  in  the  Delta.  Rayak  had  been  abandoned  in  favor  of  De- 
versoir,  on  the  canal,  a  station  which  was  manned  by  the  newly  arrived 
26th  Depot  Group,  and  the  323d  Service  Group  was  now  operating  an 
advance  depot  in  support  of  the  Desert  Air  Task  Force.  The  Ninth 
Air  Force  even  had  a  troop  carrier  group,  the  3  i6th,  which,  making  an 
appearance  late  in  November  under  Col.  Jerome  B.  McCauley,  sensibly 
improved  desert  mobility,  as  the  British  were  at  the  time  very  short  of 
air  cargo  planes.  Halverson  had  been  gone  since  August,  and  on  i 
November  the  ist  Provisional  Group  had  been  metamorphosed  into 
the  376th  Bombardment  Group  under  his  successor,  Lt.  Col.  George  F. 
McGuire.  The  activation  of  the  376th  was  a  by-product  of  an  abortive 
plan  to  send  an  Anglo-American  air  task  force  to  operate  from  the 
Caucasus,  the  3 1 6th  Troop  Carrier  Group  having  been  standing  by  in 
the  States  for  this  project  before  it  was  finally  ordered  into  the  Middle 
East.^^^  In  the  other  heavy  bomber  group,  the  98th,  Col.  John  R.  Kane 

99 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 


had  succeeded  Rush  as  commander.  The  combat  force  had  been  aug- 
mented by  two  new  fighter  groups,  the  79th  and  324th,  which  were 
going  through  the  same  careful  training  prior  to  commitment  as  had 
the  57th.  Anglo-American  cooperation  was,  if  anything,  improving, 
Andrews  reporting  to  Marshall  on  9  January  that  the  British  com- 
manders in  chief  had  taken  him  into  their  complete  confidence.^^^ 

After  the  German  collapse  in.  1945,  when  Field  Marshal  Gen. 
Wilhelm  Keitel  was  asked  the  reasons  for  Rommel's  failure  in  Africa, 
he  specified  the  breakdown  of  supply;  and  for  this  he  ungallantly 
blamed  the  Italians.  Had  they  used  small,  fast  warships  on  the  Libyan 
run,  all  would  have  been  well  Merchant  vessels  with  their  lengthy 
turn-around^^^  had  given  the  Allied  bombers  too  much  opportunity. 
Besides,  said  Keitel,  the  bombers  crippled  the  disembarkation  point 
of  Tripoli.^^'  A  contemporary  RAF  study "The  Enemy's  Last  Days 
in  Tripoli,"  bore  out  the  field  marshal's  memory.  The  F-boat  had  been 
the  most  effective  cargo  carrier,  and  of  twenty-eight  merchant  vessels 
in  the  harbor  from  2 1  November  to  2  2  January  at  least  six  were  dam- 
aged during  bombing  attacks.  The  first  B-24  missions  on  2 1  November 
damaged  two  unloading  vessels  and  considerably  disarranged  the  ware- 
houses on  the  Spanish  mole.  One  of  these  vessels  was  hit  again  by  the 
B-24's  on  the  26th  and  her  unloading  suspended  for  several  weeks.  The 
next  B-24  visitation  on  the  29th  damaged  two  5,000  tonners,  the  Sirio 
and  the  motor  vessel  Giulia:  one  burned  for  two  days  and  both  were 
finally  abandoned.  After  15  January,  the  bombers  were  given  the  un- 
usual job  of  sinking  once-sunk  hulks  which  were  being  pumped  out  for 
use  as  block  ships.  In  the  end,  however,  the  Axis  did  succeed  in  block- 
ing the  harbor  mouth. 

Unlike  Cyrenaica,  Tripolitania  presented  some  difficulty  to  the  RAF 
in  the  matter  of  landing  grounds.  The  terrain  was  not  so  favorable  and 
the  enemy  performed  well  with  mine,  booby  trap,  and  plow.  Late  in 
December  when  the  Eighth  Army  was  moving  up  to  the  Buerat  de- 
fenses, the  landing  grounds  at  Tamet  and  Sirte  required  so  much  time 
to  clear  that  the  forward  RAF  squadrons  were  moved  to  prepared 
fields  at  Hamraiet.  At  this  point,  the  GAF  and  lAF,  which  mustered 
about  450  aircraft  (mostly  fighters)  in  Tripolitania,  mounted  a  series 
of  attacks  on  airfields  before  the  Allied  air  had  got  well  established. 
Discouragement  of  these  activities  blended  naturally  into  the  custom- 
ary establishment  of  air  superiority  before  the  Eighth  Army's  attack. 
The  57th  Fighter  Group  and  the  1 2th  Bombardment  Group  (M)  partic- 

100 


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19    4  8 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


ipated  in  these  operations,  during  which  the  enemy  fighters  gave  a  par- 
ticularly good  account  of  themselves  in  a  stubborn  defense  of  the  Bir 
Dufan  landing  grounds.  Tripoli  receiving  no  ships  after  2  January, 
RAF  Liberators  and  Wellingtons  began  paying  particular  attention  to 
the  roads  leading  south  from  Tunisia.^^^ 

Although  the  Axis  forces  at  Buerat  were  weak  and  in  an  unsound  de- 
fensive position  in  which  they  had  no  intention  of  making  a  determined 
stand/^®  the  Eighth  Army  also  had  its  problems,  imposed  mainly  by 
supply.  It  had  to  turn  the  enemy  out  of  Buerat,  give  him  no  respite  in 
the  good  defensive  ground  farther  back,  and  take  Tripoli  in  a  rapid 
advance  before  the  British  stores  gave  out.  A  two-day  January  storm 
at  Bengasi  worsened  the  situation  by  so  battering  the  harbor  that  the 
burden  of  supply  was  thrown  back  on  the  Tobruk  road.  Nevertheless, 
the  attack  opened  on  schedule  on  15  January  and  on  the  i6th  was 
through  the  main  Axis  position,  of  which  no  serious  defense  was  at- 
tempted. By  17  January  a  twin-pronged  advance  moved  swiftly  on  the 
approaches  to  Tripoli.^^^ 

Montgomery  was  bending  every  effort  to  get  forward  before  his 
supplies  gave  out,  and  it  was  especially  imperative  that  the  RAF  keep 
its  fighters  in  force  ahead  of  the  troops.  This  involved  a  very  high  de- 
gree of  mobility  and  army-air  cooperation.  The  standards  reached  could 
not  be  better  illustrated  than  by  the  events  at  Sedada  on  17  January. 
Sedada  was  about  halfway  to  Tripoli  from  the  Tamet-Hamraiet  air- 
fields and  had  been  selected  as  a  landing-ground  site  before  the  attack 
began.  When  it  reached  the  area  around  nightfall  of  the  1 6th,  7  Ar- 
moured Division's  spearhead  had  with  it  a  landing-ground  party.  Next 
morning  the  armor  left  eighteen  to  twenty  of  its  Bofors,  trucks,  and  an 
ambulance  unit  with  the  landing-ground  party  at  Sedada.  By  0900  the 
strip  was  ready  for  two  squadrons  of  fighters  which  escorted  in  a  trans- 
port with  the  radar  and  immediate  requirements.  Having  flown  in 
on  their  auxiliary  tanks,  they  were  ready  for  action.  Two  other  squad- 
rons meanwhile  had  flown  on  to  bomb  the  enemy  columns  retreating 
toward  Tripoli  on  the  Tarhuna  track,  and  the  transports  bringing  in 
fuel  and  ammunition  began  flying  back  the  army  wounded  collected 
by  the  ambulance  unit;  next  day  the  process  was  repeated.^^^  The  57th 
Group,  which  had  put  in  three  days  of  bombing  and  strafing  on  the 
traffic  north  of  El  Gheddahia,  was  moved  in  this  manner  to  Darragh 
West  on  the  i8th.^^^ 

On  17  January  it  was  discovered  that  the  backtracking  enemy  air 
102 


LANDINGS   AND   THE    RACE    FOR  TUNIS 

force  had  imprudently  crowded  Castel  Benito  airfield,  just  south  of 
Tripoli,  with  almost  200  aircraft.  RAF,  ME  not  only  advised  AFHQ, 
which  ordered  i  B-17  attack  on  the  i8th,  but  turned  its  own  bombers 
on}^^  Fifty  went  in  on  the  night  of  17/18  January,  and  on  the  next 
night  the  1 2  th  Group  joined  with  Bostons  and  Baltimores  to  keep  up  a 
series  of  attacks  which  continued  through  the  21st.  By  the  2 2d  the 
enemy  air  was  being  hammered  at  the  Medenine  and  Ben  Gardane  air- 
fields in  Tunisia;^^*  and  on  23  January  the  Eighth  Army  completed  an 
epic  1,400-mile  journey  by  entering  long-coveted  Tripoli. 

With  the  fall  of  Tripoli,  IX  Bomber  Command's  attention  narrowed 
to  a  trio  of  ports  which  became  its  steady  objectives  for  some  time  to 
come— Naples,  Messina,  Palermo:  Naples,  the  chief  onloading  port  for 
Tunisia;  Messina,  to  which  the  trains  for  Sicily  were  ferried  across 
from  the  rail  lines  converging  on  the  Italian  toe;  Palermo,  where  car- 
goes carried  from  Messina  for  the  sake  of  the  shorter  sea  haul  to  Tunisia 
were  onloaded.  At  Messina  the  chief  target  was  the  tall  curved  building 
housing  the  machinery  which  unloaded  entire  trains  from  the  six 
specially  constructed  ferries  plying  the  strait  from  slips  at  Reggio  di 
Calabria  and  San  Giovanni. 

As  routine  as  the  targets  was  the  technique  employed  to  attack  them. 
Crews  were  briefed  in  Egypt,  proceeding  thence  to  Gambut  where  the 
B-24's  were  refueled.  The  bombers  took  off  in  the  late  morning, 
assembled,  and  steered  for  Cape  Aamer  where  the  Libyan  coast  was 
crossed.  The  course  then  led  to  a  portion  of  the  Italian  mainland  where 
RDF  cover  had  not  been  installed  and  on  to  a  point  in  the  Tyrrhenian 
Sea  equidistant  from  the  three  targets.  Bombing  at  last  light,  the 
planes  broke  away  to  seaward:  fighters  were  noticeably  less  aggressive 
over  the  water.  As  dusk  fell  the  formations  disbanded  and  the  B-24's 
individually  negotiated  the  long  homeward  flight.  Landing  at  Gambut 
before  midnight,  the  crews  gave  a  brief  account  of  the  mission  and  in 
the  morning  were  off  again  for  the  Delta.  If  a  plane  was  crippled  or  its 
fuel  low,  Malta  was  on  the  direct  line  homQ,  and  Luca  airdrome  soon 
exhibited  a  regular  contingent  of  ailing  B-24's.  In  March  the  Ninth 
Air  Force  sent  Luca  a  small  detachment  of  mechanics. 

Late  in  January  the  Egyptian  fields  (with  the  exception  of  Fayid 
retained  as  a  repair  base)  were  abandoned,  and  IX  Bomber  Command 
migrated  en  masse  to  Gambut,  eliminating  the  extra  engine  hours  in- 
volved in  the  300-mile  shuttle  from  the  Delta.  The  376th  joined  the 
93d  at  LG  139  and  the  98th  was  divided  between  LG's  140  and  159. 

103 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 

Command  headquarters  dug  in  at  a  site  between  LG's  139  and  159. 
Bombing  continued  during  the  move  with  the  exception  of  respites  en- 
forced by  the  seasonal  winter  rains.^^^  By  the  end  of  January,  the 
Eighth  Army  was  at  the  Tunisian  frontier  and  Montgomery  was  medi- 
tating operations  against  the  outposts  of  the  Mareth  Line.^^^  Before  that 
line  was  breached,  however,  the  Ninth  Air  Force  and  the  RAF,  ME 
had  undergone  fundamental  command  changes  necessitated  by  the 
merging  of  the  Middle  East  and  Northwest  African  theaters  of  war. 


104 


CHAPTER  4 


THE  WINTER  CAMPAIGN 

ON  29  November,  the  day  of  the  optimistic  paratroop  drop 
at  Depienne,  General  Spaatz  went  down  to  Portreath  in 
Cornwall.  Next  morning  he  left  by  air  for  Gibraltar  and  on 
the  I  St  of  December  landed  at  Tafaraoui  where  XII  Bomber  Command 
officers  informed  him  that,  except  for  Tafaraoui,  the  area  was  under  XII 
Fighter  Command's  headquarters  at  La  Senia,  that  XII  Bomber  Com- 
mand's area  lay  farther  east,  and  that  the  Casablanca  region  was  in 
charge  of  XII  Air  Support  Command.  Doolittle,  by  now  a  major  gen- 
eral, had  put  his  territorial  organization  into  operation,  although  no 
general  orders  had  been  issued.* 

It  was  Spaatz'  second  trip  to  Africa  since  the  landings.  On  17 
November  he  had  flown  to  Gibraltar  upon  Eisenhower's  invitation  and 
gone  on  to  make  an  inspection  of  the  African  theater  during  which  he 
remarked  the  B-17's  exposed  position  at  Algiers.^  His  main  purpose, 
however,  had  been  to  discuss  the  theater  air  force  organization  which 
had  been  hotly  favored  by  Arnold  and  finally  approved  by  Eisenhower 
just  before  Forward  AFHQ  moved  to  the  Gibraltar  command  post.* 
During  that  first  visit,  Spaatz  had  achieved  substantial  progress,  so 
much  that  AAF  Headquarters  assumed  that  the  theater  air  force  was  an 
accomplished  fact.^  It  had  nevertheless  been  necessary  to  shift  the  ra- 
tionale somewhat.  Spaatz'  original  plans  had  set  forth  the  standard  AAF 
doctrine  that  Germany  was  the  principal  enemy  and  proposed  that  the 
flexibility  of  the  theater  air  force  be  employed  with  the  paramount  end 
of  subjecting  the  Reich  to  heavy  strategic  bombardment,  an  air  war  on 
Italy  to  be  a  secondary  objective.  Eisenhower  perused  the  plans  briefly 
on  1 8  November  and  suggested  some  changes.  Possibly,  in  view  of  the 
uncertainty  of  the  direction  of  Allied  strategy,  he  objected  to  the  low 

*  See  above,  pp.  60-66. 

105 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 

priority  given  an  air  war  on  Italy.  At  any  rate,  Spaatz  left  his  most  ex- 
perienced planners,  Hansell  and  Brig.  Gen.  Laurence  S.  Kuter,  to  re- 
write the  Justification  for  the  theater  air  force  while  he  went  oii  his  in- 
spection, and  the  revised  draft  omitted  any  reference  to  the  priorities 
of  Germany  and  Italy  as  targets  for  air  bombardment.^ 

Even  so,  Eisenhower  hesitated  to  go  ahead  until  the  Tunisian  bases 
were  secured,  and  apparently  it  was  the  arrival  of  a  letter  from  Arnold 
which  finally  decided  him.  Reorganization  day  was  set  for  i  Decem- 
ber.^ Spaatz  went  back  to  England,  planning  to  return  to  Africa  for  a 
month's  stay.  When  he  landed  atTafaraoui  on  the  ist,  he  must  have  ex- 
pected shortly  to  take  command  of  the  theater  air  force,  as  Eaker  that 
day  took  command  of  the  Eighth.® 

Emergence  of  the  Allied  Air  Force 

Much  had  happened  in  the  interim,  however,  to  make  Eisenhower 
wary  of  appointing  Spaatz  immediately  to  the  position  of  commander 
of  the  AAF  in  ETO.  Nehring's  forces,  far  from  showing  signs  of  col- 
lapse, had  stopped  Anderson's  advance  and  were  about  to  throw  in  a 
damaging  counterattack.  On  the  other  hand,  except  for  Tunisia,  the 
Northwest  African  theater  had  been  pacified.  These  developments  in- 
validated the  separate  air  commands  enjoined  by  the  TORCH  plan. 
It  was  obvious  that  both  the  Twelfth  Air  Force  and  the  Eastern  Air 
Command  would  have  to  be  used  in  the  same  area— and  in  collaboration 
with  the  RAF,  ME  and  RAF,  Malta  in  a  common  campaign  to  rid 
Tunisia  and  Tripolitania  of  the  Axis.  Logically,  the  answer  lay  in  uni- 
fied command. 

This  was  quickly  realized  in  London,  and  on  1 9  November,  at  the  be- 
hest of  the  British,  the  CCS  called  for  the  views  of  interested  parties  on 
the  subject  of  combined  air  command  in  the  Mediterranean."^  More- 
over, while  Spaatz  had  been  back  in  England,  Tedder,  with  Andrews' 
blessing  and  accompanied  by  Sir  Keith  Park  (the  AOC  RAF,  Malta) 
and  by  Brereton,  Timberlake,  and  Col.  Uzal  G.  Ent,  had  visited  Algiers 
to  urge  that  the  system  of  area  commands  in  Northwest  Africa  be  super- 
seded by  an  air  command  for  the  entire  Mediterranean.^  With  his  Malta 
and  Gambut  bases  striking  at  the  common  enemy.  Tedder  could  demon- 
strate that  the  efforts  of  the  Middle  East  and  Northwest  Africa  were  at 
least  as  complementary  as  those  of  the  United  Kingdom  and  Northwest 
Africa.  The  British  chiefs  of  staff,  sharing  this  view,  urged  that  Tedder 
be  accepted  by  Eisenhower  as  his  air  commander, 

106 


THE   WINTER  CAMPAIGN 


This  suggestion  was  reiterated  on  3  December,®  evidently  as  part  of 
a  protest  against  the  appointment  of  Spaatz  on  that  day  to  the  relatively 
modest  position  of  "Acting  Deputy  C-in-C  for  Air,  Allied  Force."^**  In 
rebuttal,  Eisenhower  pointed  out  that  his  problems  were  immediate, 
not  permitting  of  delay  while  the  optimum  air  organization  was 
studied;  that  Tedder  could  not  well  serve  with  two  ground  command- 
ers; and  that  Spaatz'  appointment  was  as  a  staff  officer,  not  as  a  com- 
mander, and  therefore  did  not  interfere  with  the  prerogatives  of  the 
CCS.  AFHQ  expressed  a  wish  to  postpone  the  question  of  Mediterra- 
nean air  command.^^  Spaatz  wrote  back  to  Eaker  and  Stratemeyer  that 
clarification  of  his  status  awaited  clarification  of  the  Tunisian  situa- 
tion.*^ As  air  officer  of  ETOUSA,  of  course,  he  still  controlled  the 
Eighth  Air  Force  and  thus  he  performed  such  tasks  as  dividing  B-17  re- 
placements between  the  Eighth  and  Twelfth,  urging  on  Eaker  the 
necessity  of  expediting  the  Twelfth's  aircraft,  and  ordering  Eighth  Air 
Force  units  into  Africa.*^ 

At  AFHQ,  however,  Spaatz'  chief  duty  became  the  coordination 
not  of  the  Eighth  with  the  Twelfth  but  of  the  Twelfth  with  the  RAF's 
Eastern  Air  Command,  for  the  air  command  arrangements  prescribed 
by  the  TORCH  plan  had  broken  down  in  fact  as  well  as  in  theory.** 
Since  it  had  not  been  anticipated  that  the  Twelfth  and  the  EAC  would 
be  operating  so  soon  from  the  same  area,  such  coordination  of  their 
efforts  as  might  be  necessary  had  first  been  the  responsibility  of  Eisen- 
hower and  his  assistant  and  deputy  assistant  G-3  for  air.  This  simple 
arrangement  became  impracticable  when  substantial  elements  of  the 
Twelfth  began  moving  eastward,  to  Maison  Blanche  and  beyond.  The 
integration  of  their  efforts  with  the  EAC  was  then  given  over  to  Welsh, 
logically  enough,  since  it  was  on  his  territory  and  resources  that  the 
Twelfth  was  impinging.  Doolittle  had  moved  into  Algiers  from  Tafa- 
raoui,  but  his  headquarters  was  separate  from  Welsh's  at  Maison  Carree 
outside  the  city,  from  Admiral  Cunningham's  aboard  ship  in  the  harbor, 
and  from  AFHQ  at  the  St.  George  Hotel  Welsh's  principal  subordi- 
nate, Air  Cdre.  G.  M.  Lawson,  was  with  the  First  Army  at 
Philippeville.*® 

This  dispersion  of  headquarters  might  have  been  borne  had  com- 
munications throughout  the  theater  not  been  appalling.  Welsh  could 
not  command  the  American  squadrons,  and  so  had  to  work  through 
Doolittle;  frequently  this  involved  traveling  considerable  distances  for 
personal  conferences.  Moreover,  an  AFHQ  directive  had  subordinated 


107 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

the  available  forward  air  forces,  both  RAF  and  USAAF,  to  the  pressing 
needs  of  the  drive  for  Tunis;  this  meant  that  the  First  Army  had 
practical  command  over  the  aircraft.  It  resulted  in  misuse  of  air  power: 
for  instance,  apparently  on  the  day  after  Spaatz'  appointment,  a  whole 
squadron  of  the  lightly  armed  Bisleys  was  lost  on  an  unescorted  day- 
light attack  on  a  Stuka  base  ordered  by  a  ranking  ground  officer  over 
the  protest  of  the  RAF  wing  commander.  Neither  Doolittle  nor  Van- 
denberg  felt  that  the  early  employment  of  the  B-17's  against  airfields 
rather  than  ports  was  justified  (the  Luftwaffe  also  thought  that  the 
Allied  air  forces  would  have  been  better  employed  at  this  point  against 
the  Tunisian  ports)  }^  This  situation  might  have  been  more  excusable 
had  Anderson  taken  Tunis  in  his  first  lunge,  but  it  could  not  be  allowed 
to  endure  in  any  sustained  campaign.  Such  were  the  immediate  prob- 
lems Spaatz  faced  as  Eisenhower's  deputy. 

By  4  December  exercising,  as  he  put  it,  only  the  authority  that 
Eisenhower  would  normally  try  to  exercise  himself,  Spaatz  had 
switched  the  heavy  bomber  effort  from  airdromes  to  ports,  ordained 
some  rest  for  the  weary  air  forces,  and  achieved  a  rough  division  of 
labor  between  the  EAC  and  the  Twelfth  whereby  the  former  was  gen- 
erally to  cooperate  with  the  ground  forces  and  the  Twelfth  to  con- 
centrate on  "strategic"  bombing,  i.e.,  ports.  By  1 2  December  detailed 
air  command  arrangements  had  been  made  for  the  renewal  of  Ander- 
son's drive,  which  were  remarkable  chiefly  in  that  they  delivered  all 
available  tactical  aircraft,  RAF  or  USAAF,  to  Lawson's  control  once 
the  drive  had  begun.  But  these  arrangements  were  never  tested 
in  battle." 

Eisenhower  spent  most  of  the  remainder  of  1942  in  a  vain  effort  to 
extricate  his  forces  from  the  mud  before  Mateur  and  Tebourba  for  a 
decisive  blow  at  Tunis.^^  Although  the  closest  cooperation  was  main- 
tained with  RAF,  ME,  Tedder,  who  had  attended  organization  confer- 
ences at  AFHQ  in  mid-December,  persisted  in  his  belief  that  a  unified 
air  command  for  the  whole  Mediterranean  was  needed.  Finally,  at  the 
end  of  that  rainy  December  which  buried  hopes  for  the  immediate 
capture  of  Tunis,  Eisenhower,  increasingly  receptive  to  Tedder's  ideas, 
took  advantage  of  the  lull  in  the  ground  battle  to  straighten  out  his  air 
command.^® 

On  the  31st  he  proposed  to  the  CCS  that  Spaatz  be  set  up  directly 
under  AFHQ  as  commander  of  the  Allied  air  forces  in  Northwest 
Africa;  he  stressed  that  the  utilization  of  British  and  American  units  in 

108 


THE   WINTER  CAMPAIGN 


the  same  area  required  such  a  step.  At  the  same  time,  he  proposed  to 
leave  the  full  unification  of  air  effort  in  the  Mediterranean  to  a  later 
CCS  decision.^**  To  this  measure  the  reaction  of  the  British  chiefs  was 
favorable.^^  They  pointed  out,  however,  that  Spaatz'  chief  of  staff 
should  be  an  RAF  officer  and  that  his  staff  should  include  a  senior  RAF 
officer  well  qualified  in  maintenance  and  supply. 

As  to  the  subdivisions  of  the  unified  air  force,  the  British  chiefs  made 
some  suggestions  which  seemed  fairly  revolutionary,  although  the  pat- 
tern had  been  partially  established  in  the  Middle  East— that  British  and 
American  air  units  be  grouped  according  to  their  functions,  tactical  re- 
quirements, and  logistic  possibilities,  regardless  of  nationality.  They 
recognized  the  AAF's  aptitude  for  daylight  strategic  bombing  but  con- 
sidered the  RAF  especially  capable  in  the  support  of  land  and  sea 
forces,  general  reconnaissance,  and  the  operation  of  night  fighters. 
They  proposed  therefore  that  an  American  head  a  subcommand  en- 
gaged in  strategic  bombing  and  that  he  control  the  necessary  escort 
fighters— Doolittle's  XII  Bomber  Command  was  already  using  this  sys- 
tem. A  second  subcommand,  under  an  RAF  officer,  would  employ 
general  reconnaissance  and  day  and  night  fighter  aircraft  for  port  de- 
fense, shipping  protection,  and  cooperation  with  the  Royal  Navy.  A 
third  subcommand,  likewise  under  an  RAF  officer,  would  devote  itself 
to  cooperation  with  ground  forces.  Attached  to  it  would  be  light 
bombers,  fighters,  and  army  cooperation  squadrons. 

On  4  January,  Eisenhower  reported  to  the  CCS  his  essential  agree- 
ment with  the  British  plan.  But  he  stated  that  he  meant  for  the  present 
to  preserve  the  continuity  of  the  Eastern  Air  Command  and  the 
Twelfth  Air  Force.  The  old  organizations  had  already  solved  many  of 
the  difficult  administrative  problems  peculiar  to  the  theater,  and,  as  he 
put  it,  the  areas  in  which  AFHQ  was  currently  interested  with  respect 
to  ground  operations  were  widely  separated.^^  He  intended,  however, 
to  assign  functions  in  general  accord  with  the  British  recommendations. 
EAC  would  control  a  general  reconnaissance  and  striking  force  to  hit 
shipping  at  sea  and  a  day  and  night  fighter  force  to  defend  the  ports  and 
back  areas.  Through  a  subordinate  command  (Lawson's  No,  242 
Group)  it  would  be  responsible  for  close  cover  and  cooperation  with 
the  First  Army.  To  the  Twelfth  was  assigned  the  task  of  carrying  out 
strategic  bombardment  with  heavy  and  medium  bombers  and  the 
double  duty  of  cooperation  with  American  ground  forces  in  Tunisia 
and,  if  need  be,  in  Morocco. 


109 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

In  closing,  the  TORCH  commander  stated  that  in  view  of  the  ''rela- 
tively minor"  differences  in  the  plans  and  because  of  the  necessity  of 
immediate  action  he  was  organizing  forthwith.  Next  day,  5  January, 
he  activated  the  Allied  Air  Force,  and  Spaatz  passed  from  air  adviser  to 
air  commander  over  the  EAC  and  the  Twelfth.  Air  Vice  Marshal  J.  M, 
Robb  became  his  chief  of  staff.  Spaatz'  directive  did  not  change  his  re- 
lationship to  the  Eighth  Air  Force,  over  which  he  retained  his  old  con- 
trol under  ETOUSA.  His  duties  were  to  coordinate  the  operations  of 
the  Eighth  with  those  of  the  Allied  Air  Force,  to  cooperate  with  RAF, 
ME,  and  when  necessary,  to  divide  replacement  aircraft  among  the 
Eighth,  Twelfth,  and  Eastern  Air  Command.^^  The  Allied  Air  Force 
represents  the  link  between  the  U.S.  theater  air  force  which  had  been 
projected  for  the  post-TORCH  period  and  the  Northwest  African  Air 
Forces  which  later  emerged  as  the  answer  to  the  organizational  needs  of 
the  continuing  African  campaign. 

That  the  Allied  Air  Force  was  a  stopgap  and  a  compromise  should 
not  obscure  its  merits.  It  satisfied  Eisenhower's  conviction  that  the 
Eighth  Air  Force  was  necessary  to  the  fortunes  of  TORCH.  By  plac- 
ing a  common  commander  over  the  Twelfth  and  the  EAC,  it  ended  the 
de  jure  separation  decreed  by  the  TORCH  plan— a  separation  long 
since  rendered  anomalous  by  the  course  of  events  in  Africa.  Its  great 
failure  lay  in  the  fact  that  no  central  direction  had  been  provided  for 
the  tactical  or  ''air  support"  air  forces  facing  the  Tunisian  bridgehead, 
but  this  deficiency  was  to  be  remedied  within  three  weeks— at  the  plans 
level  by  a  CCS  decision  and  at  the  operational  level  by  the  necessi- 
ties of  battle. 

During  the  last  two  months  of  1942  the  Twelfth  Air  Force  also  was 
in  process  of  adjusting  to  the  changing  requirements— tactical  and  stra- 
tegic—of the  African  campaign.  In  those  days  the  planners,  air  and 
ground  alike,  labored  under  severe  handicaps.  They  could  not  be  sure 
from  day  to  day  whether  Tunis  would  fall  or  hold  out,  or  whether 
peace  or  war  would  prevail  around  Gibraltar.  Yet  each  combination  of 
circumstances  called  for  diflFerent  commitments  and  consequently 
peculiar  organizational  patterns. 

Doolittle's  reaction  to  these  early  uncertainties  was  his  concept  of 
area  composite  commands  exercising  both  tactical  and  administrative 
control  over  the  major  base  areas  and  prepared,  in  any  emergency,  to 
operate  both  bombers  and  fighters.  This  concept  he  did  not  put  into 
effect  officially  until  1 1  December,  although  he  had  broached  it  to 

110 


THE   WINTER  CAMPAIGN 


Arnold  almost  a  month  earlier,^^  one  cogent  reason  for  the  delay  being 
that  he  was  under  the  necessity  of  locating  and  developing  eastern  fields 
for  his  fighters  and  bombers.  On  1 1  December,^^  however,  XII  Bomber 
Command  was  established  in  the  new  air  base  area  south  of  Constantine, 
which  city  was  designated  its  headquarters.  Its  territory  extended  from 
Bougie  east  to  the  Tunisian  border  except  for  XII  Fighter  Command's 
sector  (which  Welsh  had  assigned)  in  the  Tebessa-Feriana  region.  Ex- 
isting organizations  were  drawn  upon  for  the  other  composite  com- 
mands: 5  ist  Troop  Carrier  Wing  furnished  the  cadre  for  the  Central 
Algerian  Composite  Wing  in  the  Algiers  area;  XII  Fighter  Command's 
rear  echelon  became  Western  Algerian  Composite  Wing  at  La  Senia; 
and  XII  Air  Support  Command  fathered  the  Moroccan  Composite 
Wing  at  Casablanca.  According  to  the  Twelfth  Air  Force's  administra- 
tive historian  the  Central  Algerian  Composite  Wing  never  really  func- 
tioned; nor  did  the  Moroccan  Composite  Wing  come  to  life  until  the 
end  of  December,  in  the  meantime  entering  into  a  series  of  intricate 
relationships  with  XII  ASC.  At  one  point  Cannon  commanded  both 
organizations.^^ 

Dunton's  XII  Air  Force  Service  Command,  on  the  other  hand,  since 
its  responsibilities  in  the  major  base  areas  were  more  constant,  was  able 
to  set  up  agreeably  with  the  order  of  1 1  December  the  elements  of  a 
stable  organization.  Its  own  order  of  14  December^^  merely  legitimized 
three  service  area  commands  already  operating  in  the  areas  controlled 
by  Moroccan  Composite  Wing,  Western  Algerian  Composite  Wing, 
and  XII  Bomber  Command.  Cols.  Harold  A.  Bartron,  George  H. 
Beverley,  and  Ray  A.  Dunn,  respectively,  took  over  command  of  the 
Casablanca,  Oran,  and  Constantine  service  area  commands  (provi- 
sional). Service  units  in  the  Central  Algerian  Composite  Wing's  area 
operated  directly  under  the  headquarters  of  XII AFSC,  which  had  been 
moved  from  Oran  to  Algiers  on  1 3  December.  With  minor  changes  in 
designation  and  location,  XII  AFSC  organization  remained  substan- 
tially as  above  throughout  the  Tunisian  campaign,  although  subse- 
quently an  attempt  was  made  to  organize  a  fourth  service  area  com- 
mand for  the  Algiers  area.  The  three  existing  commands  were  respec- 
tively redesignated  ist,  2d,  and  3d  Service  Area  Commands  (Pro v.)  on 
23  December.^® 

The  key  to  the  understanding  of  the  subsequent  organization  of  the 
Twelfth  lies  in  Eisenhower's  appreciation  of  the  developing  situation 
in  the  Mediterranean  and  his  plans  for  destroying  the  Axis  in  Tunisia. 

1 1 1 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES  IN   WORLD  WAR  II 


In  respect  of  the  Strait  of  Gibraltar,  he  had  tended  to  weaken  the 
American  forces  kept  in  readiness  for  action  against  Spanish  Morocco 
in  order  to  help  on  the  initial  drive  for  Tunis,  relying  on  the  England- 
based  Northern  Task  Force  for  insurance  against  a  hostile  move.* 
Moreover,  after  his  repulse  in  December  on  the  muddy  Medjerda  route 
to  Tunis,  he  pulled  additional  American  units  eastward  for  use  in  the 
drier  area  of  central  Tunisia  against  Rommel's  communications  in  the 
Sfax-Sousse-Gabes  region.^^ 

The  date  5  January  1943  was  important  in  the  organizational  history 
of  the  Allied  Force.  Not  only  was  Spaatz'  Allied  Air  Force  created  but 
at  Oujda,  in  the  northeastern  corner  of  French  Morocco,  Lt.  Gen. 
Mark  Clark  activated  the  American  Fifth  Army.^^  One  of  Clark's  re- 
sponsibilities at  the  time  was  to  prepare  for  a  possible  BACKBONE  II, 
combined  action  of  his  command  and  the  Northern  Task  Force  against 
Spanish  Morocco.^^  The  Twelfth  Air  Force,  whose  chief  task  in  the 
beginning  had  been  to  cooperate  with  just  such  an  operation,  was 
initially  committed  to  the  extent  of  furnishing  three  fighter  groups, 
if  the  necessity  arose.  To  control  these  groups,  on  6  January  the  De- 
tachment, XII  Air  Support  Command,  was  set  up  under  Col.  Rosenham 
Beam.  It  consisted  initially  of  a  headquarters,  an  air  support  communi- 
cations squadron,  a  provisional  air  support  signal  battaUon,  and  the  68th 
Observation  Group.^^  On  i  March  the  Detachment,  XII  ASC,  was  re- 
lieved from  attachment  to  the  Fifth  Army,^^  and  long  before  that  time 
the  danger  to  the  strait  had  appreciably  diminished. 

The  changing  complexion  of  the  North  African  theater  was  re- 
flected in  another  reorganization  accomplished  on  5  January. 
Doolittle's  General  Order  No.  3  announced  that  the  composite  wings- 
Moroccan,  Central  Algerian,  and  Western  Algerian— would  be  re- 
placed by  the  2d,  ist,  and  3d  Air  Defense  Wings,  respectively,  upon 
the  arrival  of  these  organizations  from  the  United  States.  The  three  air 
defense  wings  were  put  under  the  jurisdiction  of  XII  Fighter  Command, 
which  was  giving  up  its  sector  forward  of  Tebessa.^^  Western  Algeria 
and  Morocco  had  taken  something  of  the  character  of  back  areas. 
Later,  the  air  defense  of  Algiers  was  reassigned  to  the  RAF  and  the 
wing  thus  displaced  was  eventually  attached  to  XII  Air  Support  Com- 
mand in  central  Tunisia.®^ 

XII  Air  Support  Command  was  designated  as  the  air  force  contin- 
gent for  FredendalFs  II  Corps,  which  Eisenhower  was  moving  into  the 

*  See  above,  p.  50. 
112 


THE   WINTER  CAMPAIGN 


Tebessa  region  with  a  view  to  striking  a  blow  in  a  sector  more  favor- 
able to  winter  operations.  Previously,  XII  ASC  had  been  relatively  in- 
active, engaged  in  administering  the  Moroccan  area,  and  the  33d  and 
3  loth  Groups  originally  assigned  to  it  had  passed  through  to  the  active 
front  in  the  east.  General  Cannon  was  transferred  to  XII  Bomber  Com- 
mand at  the  end  of  December,  and  XII  ASC  was  then  briefly  under 
Beam  (30  Dec.-i  Jan.)  and  Col.  Peter  S.  Rask  (i-io  Jan.).  On  10  Jan- 
uary, General  Craig,  formerly  AFHQ's  deputy  assistant  G-3  for  air, 
took  command— with  the  prospect  of  an  early  test  of  American  tech- 
niques of  air-ground  cooperation.^* 

The  Casablanca  Conference 

On  14  January  the  President  and  the  Prime  Minister  came  together 
at  the  Anfa  camp  on  the  outskirts  of  Casablanca.  There  for  ten  days  the 
state  of  the  war  and  designs  for  its  vigorous  prosecution  were  con- 
sidered by  the  Combined  Chiefs  of  Staff  in  the  wide  terms  of  global 
strategy,  the  task  not  lightened  by  the  nonattendance  of  the  U.S.S.R. 
In  the  nature  of  the  case,  plans  and  prospects  for  the  African  campaign 
played  a  leading  role  in  the  discussions. 

Most  important  strategically  was  the  decision  to  exploit  the  African 
lodgment  and  deployment  by  further  Mediterranean  offensives.  The 
previous  lack  of  such  a  decision  at  the  highest  level  had  exercised  a 
muddying  effect  on  contemporary  planning:  the  planning  subcom- 
mittee of  the  CCS  wasted  three  weeks  in  November  and  December 
trying  to  devise  a  recommended  course  of  action  subsequent  to 
TORCH,  finally  giving  up  when  it  was  apparent  that  there  was  no 
agreement  even  as  to  the  general  strategic  area  for  future  offensives.^"^ 
From  the  AAF  point  of  view,  one  of  the  best  features  of  the  theater  air 
force  during  the  uncertainty  of  the  winter  of  1942-43  was  its  flexibil- 
ity, the  assurance  it  offered  that,  whatever  projects  were  finally  under- 
taken, U.S.  air  resources  would  not  be  parceled  out  to  subordinate 
ground  commanders  but  fought  according  to  the  airman's  principles  of 
mobility  and  economy  of  force  and  in  relation  to  the  total,  not  the 
local,  situation.^^ 

The  decision  to  continue  the  Mediterranean  strategy  did  not  come 
without  argument.  The  U.S.  Joint  Chiefs  hewed  to  their  preference  for 
a  1943  cross-Channel  operation,  and,  although  they  did  not  prevail  on 
this  point,  the  British  receded  from  an  earlier  contention  that  Sardinia, 
not  Sicily,  was  the  proper  next  objective  in  the  Mediterranean.  In  the 

"3 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 


end  it  was  decided  that  HUSKY,  the  assault  on  Sicily,  would  be  under- 
taken during  the  favorable  July  moon  or,  if  possible,  during  the  corre- 
sponding favorable  June  period.^^ 

In  accordance  with  the  primary  strategic  decision  and  in  view  of  the 
progressive  de  facto  fusion  of  the  Middle  East  and  Northwest  African 
theaters,  the  CCS  at  Casablanca  prescribed  new  command  arrange- 
ments for  the  Mediterranean.  For  HUSKY,  the  present  naval  com- 
mander of  X  Force,  Fleet  Admiral  Cunningham,  was  to  assume  the  title 
of  Commander  in  Chief,  Mediterranean,  the  incumbent  of  that  position 
to  become  Commander  in  Chief,  Levant.  At  an  unstipulated  time  after 
the  Eighth  Army  had  crossed  the  Tunisian  frontier,  General  Alexander 
was  to  be  designated  Eisenhower's  deputy  commander  in  chief  and  the 
Eighth  Army  would  pass  to  AFHQ's  control.  Subject  to  Eisenhower's 
approval,  Alexander's  immediate  task  thereafter  would  be  to  direct  all 
Allied  ground  forces  on  the  Tunisian  front.^** 

The  CCS  also  agreed  on  an  over-all  air  command  for  the  Mediterra- 
nean by  adopting  the  substance  of  the  proposals  the  British  chiefs  had 
previously  made  to  Eisenhower.  Tedder  was  chosen  as  air  commander 
in  chief.  Under  him  were  to  be  two  principal  subordinates,  an  air  com- 
mander for  Northwest  Africa  (Spaatz)  and  an  air  commander  for  the 
Middle  East  (Air  Chief  Marshal  Sir  Sholto  Douglas) .  The  broad  out- 
lines of  Spaatz'  command,  the  future  Northwest  African  Air  Forces, 
were  specifically  laid  down. 

Spaatz  would  have  at  his  disposal  the  Western  Desert  Air  Force,  the 
Twelfth  Air  Force,  and  the  Eastern  Air  Command.  From  these 
elements  he  was  required  by  the  CCS  to  form  three  main  subcommands 
—a  heavy  and  medium  bomber  force  with  appropriate  escort  fighters, 
a  coastal  air  force  for  port  and  shipping  protection,  and  a  tactical  air 
force  or  air  support  command.  The  last  was  to  work  in  conjunction 
with  General  Alexander  and  to  comprise  the  three  air  detachments  co- 
operating with  the  main  ground  forces  bent  on  destroying  the  Axis 
bridgehead,  the  British  First  and  Eighth  Armies  and  the  U.S.  II  Corps. 
It  was  generally  agreed  that  Coningham  would  command  this  new  tac- 
tical air  force.  The  date  for  implementing  the  new  organization  was 
not  specified  and  important  details  were  left  to  be  worked  out, 
but  thereafter  air  organization  in  Northwest  Africa  followed  a 
master  plan.^^ 

General  Arnold  had  arrived  at  Casablanca  in  hopes  that  the  unity  of 
strategic  air  operations  in  the  United  Kingdom-North  African- 
114 


THE   WINTER  CAMPAIGN 


Middle  East  areas  would  be  recognized  in  the  new  command  system. 
He  conceived  of  these  regions  as  one  vast  encircling  "horseshoe  area" 
from  which  Allied  air  power  could  strike  at  Axis  Europe  utilizing 
whatever  point  on  the  perimeter  was  best  favored  by  seasonal  weather 
and  convenience  to  the  targets  of  current  strategy.  Once  the  North 
African  bases  had  been  captured  and  furnished  with  the  facilities  for 
servicing  a  mobile  heavy  bomber  force,  true  strategic  mobility  could 
be  achieved  and  the  strain  on  the  lAF  and  GAP  increased  by  the  neces- 
sary dispersion  of  their  defense  efforts/^ 

The  air  force  Arnold  projected  for  the  horseshoe  area  could  not  be 
reconciled  with  the  strategic  decisions  arrived  at  by  the  Casablanca 
conferees.  Nor  was  opinion  at  the  conference  universally  favorable  to 
the  U.S.  doctrine  of  strategic  bombing;  in  fact,  the  Eighth  Air  Force, 
pioneering  in  the  application  of  that  doctrine,  was  under  attack.  Eaker 
was  called  down  from  England,  He  managed  to  convince  Churchill 
that  the  Eighth's  ineffectiveness  was  no  fault  of  its  own  and  that  the 
proposed  conversion  of  its  heavies  to  night  operations  would  be  im- 
practicable and  wasteful.  Once  this  crisis  was  passed,  the  Eighth  was 
treated  generously  at  Casablanca.  On  21  January  the  CCS  issued  a 
directive  on  the  bomber  offensive  from  the  United  Kingdom.  This 
document  assured  the  continuance  of  daylight  bombing  from  the 
United  Kingdom  and  freed  Eaker's  force  to  a  large  extent  from  the  exi- 
gencies of  aiding  TORCH,  Hereafter  the  Eighth  went  its  own  way  in 
England,*^ 

The  formal  separation  of  England  and  Africa  came  later  when 
Headquarters,  North  African  Theater  of  Operations,  United  States 
Army,  was  established  on  4  February  under  Eisenhower's  command. 
American  forces  in  England  remained  in  ETOUSA  and  Andrews  was 
brought  in  from  the  Middle  East  as  commander.  The  control  of  Eisen- 
hower and  Spaatz  over  the  Eighth  Air  Force  ceased.  The  setting  up  of 
NATOUSA  symbolized  and  implemented  the  Casablanca  decision  that 
the  imminent  attempt  to  break  into  the  European  fortress  was  to  be 
made  in  the  Mediterranean,  from  the  African  springboard.  From 
England,  for  the  time  being,  only  an  air  offensive  would  be  mounted.** 

Nev)  Air  Bases 

By  14  December  1942  the  Axis  establishment  in  Tunisia  numbered 
an  estimated  38,500  men— nearly  20,000  German  combat  troops  and 
over  1 1,000  Italian,  together  with  2,500  GAF  and  5,000  service  troops. 

115 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


Substantial  increments  were  arriving  daily.  By  the  1 8th  the  estimated 
total  had  risen  to  42,100.  Not  only  did  these  enemy  forces  lack  for 
little  but  an  abundance  of  extra  supplies  was  going  down  from  Tunis 
and  Bizerte  by  rail  to  Sfax  and  thence  by  rail,  by  road,  and  sea  to 
Rommel  in  Tripolitania.  In  the  north,  Col.  Gen.  Jiirgen  von  Arnim,  the 
new  enemy  commander  in  Tunisia,  was  defending  his  lodgment  along 
a  line  west  of  Mateur-Tebourba-Mohamadia  with  local  attacks  em- 
ploying armor  and  infantry.  With  patrols  and  defensive  positions  west 
of  Zaghouan  and  Kairouan,  he  protected  the  coastal  corridor  to  the 
south.  Defense  of  central  and  southern  Tunisia  was  an  affair  of  outposts 
and  motorized  cavalry  at  Djebel  Krechem  and  Kebili  and  south  of  the 
Mareth  Line  at  Medenine  and  Foum  Tatahouine.^^ 

At  this  point,  Eisenhower  was  still  in  hopes  of  striking  a  decisive 
blow  in  the  north  to  avoid  settling  down  to  the  "logistical  marathon." 
He  had  set  20  December  as  the  date  of  another  try  for  Tunis.  But  the 
weather,  worsening  after  mid-December,  frustrated  his  plans,  and  the 
possibility  of  a  major  offensive  in  the  north  passed  over  until  March. 
He  turned  his  attention  to  preparing  operations  in  central  Tunisia  and 
to  methods  of  limiting,  in  the  interim,  the  Axis  build-up.  The  air  forces, 
whose  part  in  these  endeavors  was  expected  to  be  considerable,  mean- 
while were  working  hard  to  remedy  one  of  their  greatest  problems, 
the  scarcity  of  airfields.^® 

It  had  been  Anderson's  opinion  that  the  lack  of  airfields  within  con- 
venient fighter  radius  of  the  front  had  been  responsible  for  his  check 
early  in  December.  A  report  of  the  distribution  of  Allied  aircraft  at  that 
time  (the  5th)  showed  that  all  suitable  fields,  front  and  rear,  were  being 
used  to  capacity.  Bone  held  76  fighters;  Youks,  37  (besides  9  DB-7's); 
and  Souk-el-Arba,  45.  Canrobert  and  Djidjelli,  some  distance  back,  to- 
gether had  a  total  of  only  19  fighters  and  light  bombers,  but  in  the 
Algiers  area  Maison  Blanche  and  Blida  together  counted  150  aircraft, 
and  four  fields  around  Oran  had  180,  mostly  at  Tafaraoui  and  La  Senia. 
Even  two  weeks  later,  when  a  great  improvement  had  been  made, 
Doolittle  estimated  that  of  600  planes  at  his  disposal  only  about  a  third 
could  be  effectively  employed  at  one  time  against  the  Axis.'^'^ 

The  pre-invasion  plans  had  specified  that  the  British  were  respon- 
sible for  the  development  of  airfields  from  Algiers  eastward  as  their 
offensive  moved  on  towards  Tunis.*®  They  brought  in  two  airfield  con- 
struction groups,  Nos.  14  and  3,  and  detachments  of  the  former  were 
by  20  November  working  in  the  area  of  Souk-el-Arba.  The  British 

116 


THE   WINTER  CAMPAIGN 


were  baffled,  however,  with  the  onset  of  the  rains  in  the  Medjerda 
valley.  They  laid  Sommerf  eld  mat,  well  suited  to  the  English  sod  fields, 
but  at  Souk-el- Arba  it  simply  sank  in  the  mud.  An  underlayer  of  cork 
was  added;  it  buckled,  and  the  Spits  proceeded  to  rip  up  chunks  of  run- 
way. No  better  success  was  had  with  bamboo  rushes.  Pierced  steel 
plank  might  have  served;  but  enough  for  a  5,000-foot  runway  weighed 
2,000  tons,*®  and  Eisenhower  explained  that  2,000  tons  would  have 
taken  up  the  entire  capacity  of  the  railroad  in  the  forward  sector  for  a 
whole  day.^°  (At  Christmas  time  two  of  the  pierced  steel  plank  run- 
ways received  in  Africa  were  either  laid  or  being  laid  in  the  back  area, 
at  Mediouna  and  Rabat-Sale,  and  the  third  was  on  its  way  by  sea  up  the 
Tunisian  coast.^^)  Eventually,  the  solution  in  the  Medjerda  valley  grew 
out  of  a  local  Frenchman's  remark  that  he  had  a  field  which  never  be- 
came waterlogged.  Its  soil  was  sandy,  and  the  British  fields  were  sub- 
sequently built  on  a  number  of  sand  outcrops  in  the  Souk-el- 
Khemis  area.^^ 

The  Twelfth  Air  Force  arrived  in  Africa  with  responsibility  for  air- 
drome construction  and  maintenance  around  Casablanca  and  Oran,  and 
it  was  anticipated  that  the  Twelfth  would  push  its  area  of  responsibility 
eastward  in  the  wake  of  the  First  Army.^^  Two  battalions  of  the  21st 
Engineer  Regiment  (Aviation)  with  its  headquarters  and  service  com- 
pany and  two  companies  of  the  871st  Airborne  Engineer  Battalion 
landed  with  XII ASC  in  Morocco.  The  airborne  engineer  unit  had  been 
activated  especially  for  TORCH  at  Westover  Field,  Massachusetts,  on 
18  August,  and  only  the  utmost  dispatch  had  got  the  two  companies 
ready  by  the  sailing  date.^*  Four  aviation  engineer  battalions  came  in  at 
Oran,  the  809th,  814th,  815th,  and  817th.  Brig.  Gen.  Donald  A. 
Davison,  formerly  engineer  for  the  GHQ  Air  Force,  was  engineer  on 
Eisenhower's  staff,  and  Col.  John  Colonna  and  Lt.  Col.  Henry  Hoeffer 
were  engineers  on  the  staffs  of  Twelfth  Air  Force  and  XII  ASC, 
respectively.*^* 

Despite  its  sizable  contingent  of  aviation  engineers  the  Twelfth  did 
not  immediately  make  much  headway  against  the  airdrome  shortage  in 
the  battle  area.  With  its  primary  responsibility  for  the  Oran  and  Casa- 
blanca regions,  where  the  fields  sadly  needed  attention,  it  was  required 
in  addition  to  prepare  bases  facing  Spanish  Morocco.  (A  string  of 
border  fighter  fields  was  readied  and  kept  stocked  until  the  end  of  the 
Tunisian  campaign:  Oujda,  Meknes,  Ras  el  Ma,  Fez,  Taza,  and  Guer- 
cif;  and  the  Mediterranean  Base  Section  built  heavy  bomber  bases  in 

117 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


the  Oran  region.^®)  During  November  the  only  U.S.  aviation  engineers 
working  as  far  east  as  Algiers  were  a  detachment  of  the  809th  which 
arrived  at  Maison  Blanche  on  the  29th.  Meanwhile,  a  good  deal  of 
equipment  had  been  lost  or  appropriated  by  other  units,  and  off  Oran 
a  sub  had  put  a  torpedo  into  a  ship  loaded  with  bulldozers  and  other 
machinery  .^^ 

The  hurry  call  for  eastern  airdromes  came  around  the  ist  of  Decem- 
ber. Doolittle  was  anxious  to  get  his  B-17's  out  of  Tafaraoui  and  his 
mediums  out  of  Maison  Blanche.  Tafaraoui's  two  incomplete  hard- 
surfaced  runways  ranked  as  luxurious  facilities  in  Africa,  but  the  sur- 
rounding earth  was  a  mass  of  sticky  mud  after  the  frequent  rains  and  no 
aircraft  could  be  moved  off  the  runways  except  at  the  risk  of  being 
glued  in.  Maison  Blanche  had  only  one  macadam  runway,  plenty  of 
mud,  and  was  invariably  congested.^^  Visitors  to  the  theater  were 
always  struck  by  the  conditions  at  Oran  and  Algiers.  One  general  re- 
ported that  all  the  airdromes  in  Africa  presented  perfectly  uniform 
aspects:  if  a  field  boasted  two  hard-surfaced  runways,  the  longer  would 
be  employed  as  a  hardstand,  the  other,  cross-wind,  for  landing—and  the 
rest  of  the  landscape  was  muck.''^ 

It  was  known  that  the  plateau  between  the  Saharan  and  maritime 
ranges  of  the  Atlas  Mountains  was  somewhat  drier  than  along  the 
coast,  and  on  2  December,  Davison,  reconnoitering  in  the  interior, 
located  a  suitable  small  field  at  Telergma  in  the  Rhumel  valley.  By  the 
13th,  Arabs,  French  troops,  and  aviation  engineers  had  finished  a  dry- 
weather  field  for  the  mediums,  the  first  B-26  coming  in  on  that  day. 
Work  was  also  got  under  way  on  additional  fields  in  the  neighbor- 
hood.®^ However,  for  his  heavies,  Doolittle  wanted  an  all-weather  air- 
drome. For  that,  recourse  was  had  to  the  desert  itself,  at  Biskra,  an  oasis 
and  winter  resort  beyond  the  Saharan  Atlas.  The  airborne  engineers 
were  picked  up  in  Morocco  by  C-47's  and  set  down  to  enlarge  the 
desert  field.  On  13  December  it  was  ready  for  the  B-17's.  In  anticipa- 
tion, XII  Bomber  Command  planned  to  move  forward  two  squadrons 
apiece  of  the  97th  and  the  301st  from  Tafaraoui  to  Maison  Blanche  and 
Blida,  where  they  apparently  operated  for  a  time  before  moving  down 
to  their  new  home.  Although  dusty,  Biskra  was  a  good  bomber  base,  its 
huge  runway  allowing  three  B-17's  to  take  off  abreast.  The  climate 
could  be  expected  to  be  favorable  during  the  winter,  but  a  south  wind 
off  the  Sahara  would  be  blowing  by  mid-March  and  so  it  was  planned 
eventually  to  send  the  heavies  to  the  Telergma  area.  The  use  of  the  air- 

118 


THE   WINTER  CAMPAIGN 


borne  engineers  at  Biskra  was  successful  and  spectacular,  but  farther 
east  they  were  given  a  job  beyond  the  capabilities  of  their  light  equip- 
ment.  It  took  one  company  fifteen  days  to  construct  an  earth  field  at 
Tebessa;  and  before  a  battalion  with  heavy  equipment  was  sent  for- 
ward an  appreciable  delay  had  occurred  in  the  construction  in  the  im- 
portant Tebessa  region.^^ 

To  add  to  other  handicaps,  command  difficulties  arose.  The  battal- 
ions were  under  the  "operational  control"  of  the  engineer,  Twelfth  Air 
Force,  but  orders  for  construction  had  to  be  issued  from  headquarters 
of  XII AFSC  to  the  appropriate  service  area  command.  Despite  the  fact 
that  Colonna  was  also  engineer,  XII  AFSC,  his  control  was  not  as  abso- 
lute as  the  tactical  situation  demanded,  and  debate  as  to  the  assignment 
of  U.S.  aviation  engineers  went  on  for  some  time.  No  difficulty  was 
experienced  during  this  early  period  in  integration  with  the  First 
Army's  airdrome  construction  groups  primarily  because  the  British 
were  fully  engaged  in  their  own  areas  along  the  coast  and  in  the  Med- 
jerda  valley.®^ 

On  3  December,  Eisenhower,  considering  his  available  bombers  too 
few  to  do  much  to  limit  the  enemy  build-up,  signified  his  intention  of 
seeking  their  augmentation  from  the  United  Kingdom  or  the  Middle 
East.  Welsh  thereupon  requested  two  squadrons  of  Wellingtons  from 
the  Air  Ministry,  which  referred  him  to  Tedder.  Tedder,  however,  felt 
unable  to  spare  the  aircraft;  and  in  the  end  the  metropolitan  RAF  fur- 
nished Nos.  142  and  150  Squadrons,  which  moved  down  to  Portreath 
for  staging  on  9  December,  landed  at  their  Blida  base  on  the  19th,  and 
had  commenced  night  bombing  before  the  end  of  the  month.^^ 

The  Eighth  had  long  been  preparing  its  groups  for  temporary  duty 
in  Africa,  such  employment  being  the  core  of  the  theater  air  force  plan. 
On  5  December,  Eaker,  acting  on  Spaatz'  instructions,  ordered  the  air 
echelon  of  three  squadrons  of  the  93d  Group  (B-24's)  to  move  out,  its 
period  of  operations  in  Africa  to  be  approximately  ten  days.  The  93d 
arrived  at  Taf araoui  on  the  7th,  its  group  historian,  fresh  from  England, 
registering  the  opinion  that  the  base  was  unfit  for  operations.^*  The  93  d 
did  not  stay  long  at  the  much-maligned  field.  Three  scheduled  missions 
were  called  off  on  account  of  rain  and  a  fourth  canceled  when  one  of 
the  first  B-24's  to  start  taxiing  collapsed  a  nose  wheel  in  the  mud.  On 
the  13th,  however,  Bizerte  was  attacked  and  one  B-24,  badly  shot  up, 
crash-landed  at  Maison  Blanche.  Next  day  the  93d  ran  its  last  mission 
for  the  Twelfth  Air  Force  when  twelve  B-24's  again  attacked  Bizerte, 


119 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 

Straddled  a  ship  in  its  harbor,  hit  the  docks,  and  claimed  three  Me-109's 
shot  down.^^ 

After  this  brief  sojourn  in  Algeria,  the  93  d  Group  departed  for  the 
Middle  East,  pursuant  to  an  agreement  Spaatz  had  negotiated  with 
Brereton  and  Andrews  by  which  the  Ninth  Air  Force's  5 13th  Squad- 
ron (B-17's)  would  be  shifted  to  Northwest  Africa  in  return.*  The  93d 
could  be  more  useful  in  Libya  where  the  B-24's  superior  range  per- 
mitted strikes  at  Naples  and  Palenno.  The  B-17,  on  the  other  hand,  was 
altogether  suitable  for  operations  from  Algeria  against  Tunis  and 
Bizerte.  The  exchange  of  three  squadrons  for  one  probably  reflected 
Spaatz*  difficult  logistics  and  airdrome  shortage— which  prevented  him 
from  ordering  in  the  two  remaining  Eighth  Air  Force  heavy  groups 
earmarked  for  TORCH,  the  91st  and  303d.^^  He  did  attach  a  proviso 
to  the  Ninth  Air  Force's  use  of  the  93d:  the  group's  overriding  targets 
were  to  be  those  affecting  the  Tunisian  campaign.  On  1 5  December  it 
left  for  Gambut.®'^ 

During  its  first  seven  weeks  in  Africa,  XII  Bomber  Command  had  a 
total  of  four  commanding  ofiicers.  By  24  November,  Duncan,  who  had 
brought  the  organization  down  from  England,  had  been  relieved  and 
Col.  Charles  T.  Phillips,  heading  the  Eighth  Air  Force  3d  Wing,  was 
being  requested  as  his  replacement.®^  Phillips  took  over  around  1 1  De- 
cember, only  to  be  killed  on  a  B- 2  6  mission  against  El  Aouina  on  the 
15  th,  Bomber  Command  headquarters  had  been  successively  moved 
from  Tafaraoui  to  Algiers  to  Constantine  and  Col.  Carlyle  H.  Ridenour 
assumed  command  on  the  i6th.  On  New  Year's  Day,  Cannon  was 
brought  over  from  XII  ASC,  and  he  continued  in  charge  of  XII 
Bomber  until  18  February.®^ 

In  his  position  as  Eisenhower's  deputy,  Spaatz  had  earned  the  grati- 
tude of  the  Twelfth  Air  Force  by  his  efforts  to  get  its  purloined  trans- 
portation back  from  the  ground  forces  and  by  lus  representation  of  the 
airman's  point  of  view  at  AFHQ.  In  one  particular,  however,  the  De- 
cember routine  at  AFHQ  worked  unfavorably  for  the  Twelfth's  oper- 
ations. Not  only  the  specific  objectives  for  the  following  day  but  the 
time  over  target  and  number  of  attacking  aircraft  were  determined  by 
a  daily  war-room  conference  at  0900  attended  by  representatives  of  the 
Twelfth,  AFHQ,  the  RAF,  the  Royal  Navy,  and  of  Spaatz'  staff.  This 
procedure,  although  an  improvement  over  complete  control  by  Ander- 
son, converted  Twelfth  Air  Force  and  XII  Bomber  Command  into 

*  See  above,  p.  98, 
120 


voraav  Ni  sivriioaiv 


^  Mm^i  Tm&  One  Got  Bum 


THE  RUGGED  B^i7 


USS  RANGER  DELlVEEtS        S  TO  AAF  IN  AFRICA 


THE   WINTER  CAMPAIGN 


agencies  which  did  no  more  than  pass  on  orders  to  the  unit  com- 
manders. These,  in  turn,  seldom  received  the  orders  in  time  to  select 
proper  bombs  and  fuzes,  so  bombs  were  loaded  and  fuzed  a  day  in  ad- 
vance and  dropped  on  whatever  target  was  later  designated.  By  27 
December  this  procedure  had  been  abandoned  and  the  Twelfth  was 
given  a  directive  which  allowed  it  some  latitude.*^** 

If,  however,  the  heavies'  pay  loads  had  been  preselected  and  fuzed 
for  ports  and  shipping  each  evening,  little  would  have  been  lost  the  next 
day,  because  during  December  and  early  January  the  bomber  com- 
mand mostly  confined  itself  to  the  harbors  at  Tunis  and  Bizerte,  under- 
taking strikes  against  Sousse  and  Sfax  when  weather  or  unusual  enemy 
activity  favored  them  as  targets.  Daylight  pounding  of  Tunis  and  Bi- 
zerte was  nearly  exclusively  the  B-17's  job,  the  ports  having  become 
too  hot  for  medium  or  light  bombers.  No  longer,  as  in  the  first  days  of 
December,  did  the  DB-7's  visit  El  Aouina  or  the  mediums  the  Bizerte 
docks,  although  occasionally  mediums  attacked  difficult  targets  when 
B-17's  were  along  to  saturate  the  defenses. 

As  operations  go,  the  early  missions  had  not  been  costly:  in  fact,  on 
30  November,  Doolittle  reported  that  only  eight  Twelfth  Air  Force 
aircraft  had  been  shot  down  by  enemy  planes  and  twelve  by  ground 
fire,  friendly  or  hostile.  Seven  had  been  lost  on  the  ground  by  enemy 
bombing  and  strafing  and  forty-nine  through  miscellaneous  and  un- 
known causes.  This  last,  Doolittle  admitted,  was  "rather  appalling," 
but  it  had  been  predicted  that  wastage  from  crashes,  disappearances, 
and  internments  would  be  high  in  TORCH.  Personnel  losses  had  been 
relatively  slight;  pilots  regularly  walked  home  and  the  Arabs  received 
considerable  sums  of  blood  money. 

But  after  their  fields  had  recovered  from  the  rainy  spell  which  set  in 
on  8  December,  the  Allied  airmen  found  that  the  Axis  had  put  the 
respite  to  good  use.  The  B- 1 7's  discovered  new  and  formidable  yellow- 
nosed  FW-190's  at  Bizerte,  and  flak  so  markedly  increased  that  Tunis 
and  Bizerte  soon  compared  with  the  more  heavily  defended  targets  in 
northwestern  Europe.*^^  The  Twelfth's  B-17's  attacked  Tunis  and 
Bizerte  day  after  day,  going  in  with  forces  which  seem  pitifully  small 
in  comparison  with  the  armadas  of  1944  and  1945.  That  their  losses 
remained  low  must  be  attributed  to  the  fact  that  they  usually  had  P-3  8's 
escorting,  not  many  P-3  8's  but  enough  to  divide  the  opposition's  atten- 
tion. Moreover,  the  German  pilots  had  not  evolved  any  very  satisfac- 
tory way  of  attacking  the  heavily  armed  B-17,  and  they  were  properly 

121 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD  WAR  II 


respectful.  For  example,  on  1 5  December  two  formations  were  sent  out 
from  Biskra  for  simultaneous  attacks  on  Tunis  and  Bizerte.  Six  P-38's 
accompanied  seven  B-17's  bound  for  Tunis;  another  six  escorted  the 
dozen  heavies  which  could  be  mustered  for  Bizerte.  All  aircraft  re- 
turned despite  flak  and  enemy  fighters,  and  according  to  an  investiga- 
tion of  the  port  after  its  capture,  with  one  500-pounder  the  Tunis 
contingent  sank  the  io,ooo-ton  Italian  freighter  Arlesiana,  On  the  i8th, 
however,  at  Bizerte,  four  escorts  and  a  bomber  were  shot  down 
(another  B-17  crash-landed  at  Le  Kef)  out  of  a  formation  of  sixteen 
P-38's  and  thirty-six  B-17's.  Thirty-three  of  the  bombers  had  attacked 
the  target;  the  remaining  three  dropped  on  two  naval  vessels  between 
Cap  Zebib  and  the  Cani  Islands 

Thereafter,  until  26  December,  foul  weather  plagued  XII  Bomber. 
On  the  2 1  St  at  Sfax  and  Gabes  and  on  the  2  2d  at  Bizerte,  Sousse,  and 
Sfax,  10/10  cloud  prevented  an  attack.  On  the  23d,  seventeen  B-17's  of 
the  301st  Group,  escorted  by  eleven  P-38's  of  the  ist,  took  off  for 
Tunis  and  Bizerte.  Five  bombers  returned  early  after  encountering 
cumulus  and  icing  at  25,000,  The  targets  were  completely  shrouded, 
and  four  wandering  B-17's  turned  up  at  distant  airdromes,  Tafaraoui, 
Nouvion,  and  Relizane.*^^ 

By  the  end  of  December,  XII  Bomber  Command  organization  began 
to  take  form,  incorporating  one  feature  novel  in  bomber  commands: 
the  escort  fighters  were  attached.  Between  14  and  18  December,  two 
squadrons  of  the  ist  Fighter  Group  (P-38*s)  moved  to  the  bomber  sta- 
tion at  Biskra  and  came  under  the  control  of  XII  Bomber.  Part  of  Doo- 
little's  regime  of  composite  commands,  this  innovation  did  away  with 
the  necessity  of  coordinating  each  mission  with  a  fighter  command 
headquarters,  and  the  P-3  8's  presence  on  the  bomber  airdrome  simplified 
such  problems  as  rendezvous.  The  step  seems  to  have  been  well  suited 
to  the  operating  hazards  in  Africa,  especially  to  the  miserable  com- 
munications which  Doolittle  rated  on  30  November  as  the  chief  bug- 
bear of  efficient  operations.^^  The  system  worked  to  the  satisfaction  of 
USAAF  commanders,  but,  later,  Coningham  and  other  observers  came 
to  believe  that  continual  employment  of  fighters  as  escort  detracted 
from  their  efficiency  in  their  primary  role.  The  fighter  pilots  tended 
to  regard  themselves  as  stepchildren  of  the  bomber  command.*^® 

In  the  early  days,  the  bomber  command  passed  down  directly  to  the 
units  the  operational  instructions  for  the  missions.  As  the  available 
groups  became  more  numerous,  however,,  wings  were  interposed.  For 

122 


THE   WINTER  CAMPAIGN 


this  purpose  the  wing  headquarters  originally  attached  to  XII  ASC 
were  utilized.  On  Christmas  Day,  Col.  J.  H.  Atkinson,  commanding 
the  97th  Group,  was  promoted  to  brigadier  general  and  later  made 
commander  of  the  5th  Bombardment  Wing  (Heavy),  the  organization 
gradually  assembling  at  Biskra  in  mid-January.  Moreover,  shortly  after 
New  Year's,  personnel  of  the  7th  Fighter  Wing  headquarters  in  Moroc- 
co were  alerted  for  a  move  eastward,  and  on  7  January,  Ridenour  re- 
placed Col.  John  C.  Crosthwaite  as  commanding  officer.  On  i  February 
the  7th  began  operating  at  Chateaudun-du-Rhumel,  near  Constantine, 
as  a  medium  bombardment  vising,  an  arrangement  solemnized  when  it 
was  redesignated  47th  Bombardment  Wing  (Medium)  on  25  Feb- 
ruary.^^ 

After  Christmas,  the  bad  weather  having  worn  itself  out  for  the  time 
being,  the  B-i7*s  turned  their  attention  chiefly  to  the  east-coast  ports  of 
Sfax  and  Sousse,  which  were  building  up  supplies  against  RommeFs 
arrival  in  southern  Tunisia.  Seven  missions  were  run  against  them  late 
in  December,  the  results  showing  the  high  degree  of  accuracy  the  B- 1 7's 
were  achieving.  P-40's  of  the  33d  Group,  by  then  operating  out  of 
Thelepte  in  central  Tunisia,  took  the  3  o  i  st  to  Sfax  on  2  6  December;  the 
bombs  evidently  wrought  havoc  in  the  harbor,  one  small  and  two  large 
vessels  being  assessed  as  sunk.  Next  day  the  30  ist  attacked  Sousse,  claim- 
ing hits  on  four  ships,  one  of  which  was  reportedly  blown  to  bits.  Sfax 
absorbed  further  punishment  on  the  30th  and  31st:  the  97th  started 
fires  in  the  marshalling  yards  and  on  the  west  end  of  its  north  quay  on  the 
30th,  and  next  day  the  301st  claimed  hits  on  two  medium-sized  ships 
in  the  harbor."^® 

On  4  January  weather  prevented  all  but  one  of  a  formation  of  B-17's 
from  bombing  La  Goulette,  but  on  the  5  th  and  the  8th  effective  strikes 
were  carried  out.  The  5th  saw  the  97th  Group  over  Sfax,  weather  recon- 
naissance having  disclosed  solid  overcast  at  Tunis  and  Bizerte,  Eleven 
B-17's  bombed  and  completely  destroyed  the  Sfax  power  station,  hit 
at  least  one  vessel  in  the  harbor,  and  left  the  entire  dock  area  smoking. 
Bad  weather  did  not  protect  Ferryville  on  the  8th.  The  97th  found 
holes  in  the  overcast,  bombed  through  them,  and  reported  hits  on  oil 
storage  tanks,  docks,  and  ships.  After  Tunis  had  fallen  in  May  it  was 
learned  that  the  ships  included  five  French  vessels  sunk  or  damaged 
beyond  repair:  a  submarine,  a  sailing  vessel,  a  tug,  an  aircraft  tender, 
and  a  patrol  vessel.'^® 

During  their  early  operations  in  Africa  the  Twelfth's  medium  bomb- 

123 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  H 

ers  did  not  achieve  the  performance  of  its  heavies.  For  this  there  were 
cogent  reasons:  the  medium  groups  had  no  previous  combat  experience 
and  their  tactics  and  employment  remained  to  be  worked  out;  they 
arrived  in  the  theater  mostly  in  driblets,  and  the  319th,  for  one,  kept 
losing  its  commanding  officers;  once  operational,  they  could  not  be 
kept  at  strength  and  suffered  loss  of  morale  and  combat  effectiveness.®^ 

Medium  bomber  targets  comprised,  for  the  most  part,  airdromes, 
marshalling  yards,  and  railroad  bridges,  although  unsuccessful  forays 
were  made  against  shipping  at  sea  and  Sousse  harbor  was  twice  attacked. 
The  outstanding  lesson  taught  by  these  operations  was  that  B-25's  and 
B-26's  could  not  be  used  profitably  in  low-level  attacks  on  localities 
where  the  Germans  had  had  time  to  get  in  any  considerable  amount 
of  their  light  AA.  The  mediums  were  speedily  driven  to  altitudes  of 
7,000  to  9,000  feet;  and  even  there  violent  evasive  action  was  necessary, 
with  the  result  that  their  accuracy  was  not  so  great  as  that  of  heavies  at 
2 1,000  to  24,000  feet.  All  missions  were  on  an  extremely  modest  scale: 
for  a  time  after  5  December  the  3ioth's  striking  force  consisted  of  a 
half-dozen  B-25's,  and  the  heaviest  medium  attack  during  1942  mus- 
tered only  thirteen  bombers,  the  resources  of  both  the  3  loth  and  3  i9th.®^ 

The  first  attempt  to  bomb  Sousse  harbor  was  frustrated  on  12 
December  when  two  B-26's  were  lost  to  the  winter  elements.  Next  day 
six  B-25's,  escorted  by  four  P~38's,  bombed  from  7,000  feet  plus  and 
reportedly  hit  the  docks  and  two  ships  in  port.  On  the  14th,  the  Sousse 
antiaircraft  gunners  were  apparently  befuddled  when  six  of  the  3  i9th's 
B-26's  swept  in  at  900  to  1,200  feet,  hit  the  docks  and,  it  was  thought, 
three  vessels  in  the  harbor;  bombers  and  escort  got  away  unscathed. 
But  when  this  tactic  was  repeated  on  the  15th  and  i8th  it  proved  so 
dangerous  that  low-level  bombing  against  land  targets  was  virtually 
abandoned  except  where  little  or  no  AA  was  expected.  Phillips  was 
killed  over  El  Aouina  on  the  15  th  in  a  flak  barrage  to  which  a  cruiser 
and  four  destroyers  off  Carthage  contributed.  On  the  i8th,  four  P-38's 
from  the  ist  Group  escorted  five  B-26's  and  six  B-25's  to  the  Sousse 
marshalling  yards  where  they  attacked  at  from  700  to  1,500  feet.  They 
were  greeted  by  a  mile-long  box  barrage  which  shot  down  a  pair  of 
B-26's,  one  of  which  defiantly  continued  to  fire  at  the  flak  barges  until 
it  crashed  into  the  harbor.®^ 

After  the  Sousse  marshalling  yards,  the  mediums  were  quiescent  for 
more  than  ten  days,  the  crews  spending  their  time  sweating  out  bad 
weather  and  practicing  minimum-altitude  bombing,  soon  to  be  effec- 


124 


THE   WINTER  CAMPAIGN 


tively  employed  against  shipping  in  the  Sicilian  narrows.  At  the  end  of 
December,  when  operations  were  resumed,  the  effort  was  concentrated 
on  airdromes— the  mediums  having  largely  taken  over  this  function 
from  the  heavies— and  on  the  Tunisian  railroads  which  were  carrying 
supplies  not  only  for  Rommel  but  for  the  growing  Axis  establishment  in 
central  and  southern  Tunisia.*^  On  30  December  the  17th  Group  made 
its  debut,  six  of  its  B-26's  hitting  the  Gabes  airfield.  (The  17th  had 
arrived  in  Africa  via  the  southern  route,  Natal- Ascension-Bathurst.) 
On  the  3 1  St,  when  it  returned  to  the  Gabes  field  with  a  mixture  of  dem- 
olition bombs  and  the  loo-pound  frag  clusters  which  subsequently 
proved  their  worth  in  the  Tunisian  air  war,  enemy  fighters  downed 
one  B-26  which  had  first  been  hit  by  flak,®* 

On  New  Year's,  while  the  3 1  oth  was  moving  to  Berteaux,  another  of 
the  new  fields  near  Constantine,  the  17  th  went  to  the  heavily  defended 
Tunis  marshalling  yards,  where  the  intense  flak  shot  down  one  B-26  and 
the  escort  lost  a  P-40  in  an  encounter  with  a  half-dozen  Me- 1 09's.  On  4 
January  the  GAF  discovered  that  unescorted  B-26's  were  to  be  handled 
with  care.  The  occasion  was  a  coincidence:  an  Me-iop-Ju-SS  forma- 
tion arrived  to  bomb  Thelepte  at  the  moment  when  eleven  B-26's 
arrived  over  near-by  Feriana  to  pick  up  escort  from  the  field.  The 
B-26's  turned  for  home,  were  attacked  by  five  Me-109's,  and  promptly 
ishot  down  two.  Meanwhile,  the  Ju-88's  were,  one  by  one,  dive  bomb- 
ing across  the  field.  Five  P-40's  got  off,  made  interception,  and  shot 
down  one  of  the  offending  Junkers  and  one  of  the  remaining 
Me-iop's.®*^ 

Logistics  in  Africa 

When,  on  2  January,  Eaker,  who  had  just  returned  from  Africa, 
informed  Stratemeyer  that  the  failure  to  "sweep  the  Axis  out  of  Tu- 
nisia" was  due,  among  other  causes,  to  the  breakdown  of  supply,  his 
statement  was  profoundly  representative  of  sentiment  in  Africa.  In 
fact,  the  rate  of  Axis  build-up  as  compared  with  what  the  Allies  could 
get  forward  to  Tunisia  was  at  the  time  a  matter  of  no  little  concern 
in  Algiers.*^ 

The  Twelfth  was  especially  bedeviled  by  the  diflficult  logistics  of 
Africa  because  the  planners  had  not  anticipated  that  in  the  early  stages 
of  the  operation  it  would  be  a  highly  mobile  air  force,  nor  that  it  would 
be  operating  so  far  east.  The  Twelfth's  chief  bases  in  the  final  months 
of  1942  were  Oran  and  Casablanca;  units— in  four  or  five  echelons— 


125 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

aircraft,  and  equipment  all  came  iiito  these  areas,  whereupon  a  large 
part  had  to  move  again  to  the  active  sectors  in  the  east.  Some  of  their 
equipment  did  not  catch  up  with  the  tactical  units  until  the  Tunisian 
campaign  was  virtually  over.  Early  in  January  when  the  Twelfth  had 
begun  sizable  operations  in  eastern  Algeria,  AFHQ  designated  as  its 
forward  base  the  port  of  Philippeville,  whence  a  railroad  led  south  to 
Constantine  and  connected  with  the  lines  serving  Telergma  and  Biskra 
and  with  the  line  running  to  the  installations  at  Tebessa  and  Youks-les- 
Bains.®^  The  daily  capacity  of  the  Biskra  line  was  400  tons,  and  the 
Twelfth's  allotment  of  that  tonnage  (reportedly  250)  was  not  enough, 
with  its  other  requirements,  to  bring  in  its  bombs  and  fueL®^  On  4 
January,  Cannon  reported  to  Doolittle  that  he  had  to  reduce  operations 
or  his  units  would  run  out  of  500-pounders  altogether. Here  the 
C-47's  were  lifesavers.  Frequently  the  B-17's  took  all  Biskra's  available 
bombs  with  them  to  Tunis  or  Bizerte,  depending  on  the  transports  to 
replenish  the  stock  before  the  next  mission. 

As  serious  as  the  faiblesse  of  the  French  African  railways  was  the 
Twelfth's  poverty  in  motor  transportation.  This  shortage  apparently 
derived  from  a  number  of  causes:  the  current  Air  Corps  system  of 
assigning  transportation  did  not  provide  as  many  vehicles  as  correspond- 
ing ground  units  possessed;  many  service  units  had  been  left  behind 
because  of  the  necessity  of  orienting  the  initial  convoys  for  an  im- 
mediate battle  with  the  French.®**  According  to  a  Services  of  Supply 
source,  there  came  a  time  in  the  preparation  of  the  Western  Task  Force 
when  the  planners  discovered  that  the  force  was  literally  too  large  for 
its  ships.  The  dilemma  was  referred  to  Clark,  who  decided  to  cut 
vehicular  transportation,  on  the  reasonable  ground  that  the  Western 
Task  Force's  role  after  French  resistance  had  been  quelled  would  not 
require  as  much  mobility  as  that  of  the  First  Army.®^  (The  historian  of 
the  14th  Group  reported  ruefully  from  Youks  that  RAF  units  had 
transportation  adequate  to  move  every  man  and  piece  of  equipment  in 
one  trip,  in  contrast  to  the  unhappy  situation  in  which  his  organization 
found  itself.)  The  lack  of  motor  transportation  was  not  peculiar  to  the 
Twelfth  but  extended  throughout  rnost  of  the  Allied  Force,  and  Doo- 
little complained  that  he  had  lost  additional  trucks  and  jeeps  to  the 
pools  which  were  organized  to  equip  the  spearheads  of  the  eastward 
drive.  The  situation  was  so  bad  that  during  the  Casablanca  conference  a 
special  convoy  was  laid  on,  which  subsequently  brought  5,000  trucks 
from  the  States.*^ 

126 


THE    WINTER  CAMPAIGN 


All  of  this  enhanced  the  value  of  the  three  American  troop  carrier 
groups.  Eaker  reported  on  2  January  that  out  of  the  original  154  air 
transports,  135  were  still  in  operating  condition  and  that  without  them 
the  problems  of  transport  and  supply  in  the  theater  would  have  been  in- 
soluble.®^ They  had  dropped  paratroops,  ferried  airborne  engineers, 
and  stocked  advance  airfields  before  the  fighters  moved  in.  Reflecting 
the  decline  in  paratroop  operations,  on  5  January  the  5  ist  Troop  Car- 
rier Wing  was  assigned  to  Dunton's  service  command.  Taking  the  view 
that  this  relegated  them  to  mere  service  organizations,  the  troop  carrier 
units  seem  to  have  contested  the  assignment.  Not  until  February  did 
they  cease  dealing  directly  with  Twelfth  Air  Force  headquarters.®^ 

All  observers  remarked  on  the  poor  communications  in  Africa,  on 
the  overcrowded  telephone  circuits,  and  the  extensive  use  of  motor- 
cycle couriers.  In  mid-December  there  was  no  D/F,  radio  range,  or 
beacon  equipment  at  either  of  the  bomber  stations,  Telergma  or  Biskra, 
nor  any  radio  equipment  for  controlling  the  traffic  at  Tafaraoui  or 
Maison  Blanche.  This  situation  only  improved  slowly .^'^ 

Conditions  at  Thelepte,  a  base  forty  miles  southeast  of  Tebessa 
which  was  occupied  by  XII  Fighter  Command  early  in  December, 
must  have  been  fairly  typical.  In  the  semidesert  country  of  Tunisia, 
Thelepte  was  a  good  dry-weather  field,  commodious  and  less  subject  to 
miring  than  Youks  back  in  the  mountains.  It  had  no  radar  and,  properly 
speaking,  no  warning  net;  willing  French  gendarmes  telephoned  in 
when  they  saw  aircraft  but  reported  all  aircraft  as  hostile.  Day  air- 
drome patrol  was  maintained,  and  although  the  field  was  frequently 
bombed,  as  were  Youks  and  Biskra,  the  attackers,  mostly  Ju-88's,  were 
not  very  numerous  or  successful.®^  The  A  A  defense  at  Thelepte  late  in 
December  consisted  of  four  40-mm.  Bofors  and  four  .50-cal.  machine 
guns.  At  about  the  same  time,  Youks  could  count  on  eleven  40-mm.  and 
four  90-mm.,  besides  some  .50-cal.  positions,®^  an  armament  which  was 
much  better  than  that  at  Biskra,  where  at  Christmas  the  only  AA  defense 
was  that  of  the  twelve  .50-caL  guns  furnished  by  the  resident  aviation 
engineers.^® 

At  Thelepte  the  men  lived  largely  in  a  ravine  forty  minutes'  walk 
from  the  aircraft  dispersal  area.  (At  Youks  they  had  gone  underground 
in  tarpaulin-covered  dugouts.)  Spare  parts  were  quickly  exhausted  and 
thereafter  came  from  wrecks;  tin  from  flimsies  became  aluminum  for 
patching  holes;  cannibalization  and  improvisation  were  the  rule.  All 
work  went  on  in  the  teeth  of  a  high,  cold  wind— the  Biskra  oasis  with  its 

127 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES  IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


palm  grove  must  have  been  one  of  the  few  combat  bases  that  corre- 
sponded to  the  average  GFs  notion  of  Africa— with  insufficient  tools 
and  equipment  and  in  constant  expectation  of  enemy  air  attack.  Morale 
among  ground  personnel  at  these  stations  nevertheless  remained  high.^^ 
According  to  its  own  estimates,  the  Twelfth  Air  Force  consistently- 
inflicted  heavier  losses  than  it  suffered  at  enemy  hands.  In  November  it 
had  lost  only  19  aircraft  to  enemy  air  action,  AA,  and  unknown  causes 
but  had  shot  down  a  total  of  48  enemy  planes.  In  December  the 
Twelfth  accounted  for  6 1  hostiles  as  against  its  own  loss  of  49;  the  "box 
score"  read  167  to  72  for  January  and  136  to  74  for  February.  A  good 
many  factors  conspired  to  prevent  the  Twelfth  from  building  this  ad- 
vantage into  air  superiority,  but  high  among  them  was  the  continuing 
shortage  of  replacement  aircraft  and  crews.^**** 

The  prelanding  plans  had  contemplated  that  because  of  the  difficulties 
of  replacement  the  American  air  units  in  TORCH  must  initially  live  on 
their  own,  drawing  replacement  aircraft  from  first-line  strength;^^^  and 
Doolittle  was  quickly  forced  to  this  device  to  fill  up  his  active  P-38 
squadrons.  But  when  by  6  December  no  aircraft  replacements  had  yet 
reached  the  Twelfth  (except  for  the  "advance  attrition"  of  the  33d 
Group  which  had  been  catapulted  from  HMS  Archer  on  the  D  plus  5 
convoy),  Doolittle  pointed  out  to  Arnold  that  the  TORCH  plans  had 
not  contemplated  an  early  move  to  the  east  nor  early  contact  with  the 
GAF.^^^  His  problem  was  not  alleviated  by  the  fact  that  for  a  variety 
of  reasons  a  good  portion  even  of  the  Twelfth's  first-line  strength  had 
not  arrived.  This  factor  was  particularly  serious,  however,  only  in  the 
case  of  the  P-38's  and  medium  bombers;  it  is  probable  that  the  Twelfth 
could  not  in  any  event  have  deployed  its  P- 3  9  groups  in  view  of  the 
scarcity  of  forward  airdromes. 

In  the  latter  part  of  October,  because  of  the  losses  incurred  on  the 
North  Atlantic  ferry  route  by  the  3 19th  Group  (B-26's)  and  the  47th 
Group  (A-20's),  it  had  been  decided  that  the  remaining  medium  and 
light  bombers  allocated  for  the  Twelfth  would  be  flown  over  the 
South  Atlantic  to  central  Africa  and  thence  northward  into  the  thea- 
ter}^^  As  the  winter  drew  on,  the  northern  route  closed  down  alto- 
gether. By  1 1  December  only  four-engine  bombers  were  using  it;  a 
week  later  they  had  to  abandon  the  crossing.^*'*  This  meant  that  all  re- 
placement aircraft  for  the  Twelfth,  except  for  fighters,  would  fly  via 
central  Africa.  It  also  meant  that  the  Twelfth  was  placed  strategically 
athwart  the  Eighth's  bomber  pipe  line:  the  first  twenty-eight  B-17  re- 
128 


THE   WINTER  CAMPAIGN 


placements  coming  over  the  southern  route  stayed  in  Africa  on  Spaatz' 
instructions.**^*^ 

The  original  staging  arrangements  for  the  medium  and  light  bombers 
(the  question  was  more  important  for  them  than  for  the  longer-range 
heavies)  contemplated  a  South  Atlantic  crossing  via  Ascension  to 
Accra  on  the  Gold  Coast;  depending  on  the  reaction  of  the  Vichy- 
controlled  areas  of  western  Africa,  they  would  then  be  flown  from 
Kano,  Accra,  or  Maiduguri  to  Oran  and  Casablanca  once  communica- 
tions were  established.  Such  was  the  plan  advanced  from  Washington 
by  the  Air  Transport  Command  ( ATC)  late  in  October.*^®  Doolittle, 
concerned  over  the  long  distances  involved  in  the  final  leg,  had  sug- 
gested that  the  overwater  terminus  be  shifted  to  Bathurst  in  Gambia 
and  that  Atar  in  French  Mauritania  be  considered  as  a  way  station  on 
the  hop  to  Casablanca.  Use  of  Atar,  of  course,  depended  on  a  change  of 
heart  by  the  French  command  in  western  Africa.*^^ 

After  D-day  the  Africa-Middle  East  Wing  ( AMEW)  of  the  ATC 
established  a  C-87  shuttle  from  Accra  to  Oran  via  Kano,  the  first  flight 
being  made  on  13  November;  and  the  68th  Group^s  two  A-20  squad- 
rons had  successfully  negotiated  this  route  before  the  end  of  the 
month.^^®  However,  when  the  17th  Group  arrived  at  Accra  on  26 
November,  Col.  Curtis  D.  Sluman  advised  that  his  B-26's  as  then 
equipped  and  loaded  lacked  100  miles  of  the  range  necessary  for  the 
1, 700-mile  Kano-Oran  leg.  It  was  then  necessary  to  reroute  them  to  the 
westward.^^®  After  a  two-week  delay  at  Accra,  Roberts  Field  in 
Liberia,  and  Bathurst,  the  group  finally  got  off  to  Marrakech  after 
Governor  Pierre  Boisson  on  7  December  had  removed  the  long-time 
threat  of  Dakar  by  agreeing  that  all  French  West  Africa  and  Togoland 
would  thenceforth  cooperate  with  the  Allies.^^*^ 

With  Allied  access  to  its  airdromes  Dakar  became  the  logical  termi- 
nus for  the  overwater  hop  of  all  aircraft  bound  for  North  Africa  and 
England  over  the  southern  route.  But,  during  the  time  it  took  to  nego- 
tiate further  with  the  French  and  to  complete  arrangements,  Bathurst 
in  neighboring  Gambia  was  the  most  important  ferrying  station  and 
headquarters  of  AMEW's  14th  Transport  Group.^^^  The  more  easterly 
routes  to  Algeria  and  Morocco  were  gradually  abandoned:  the  ATC 
gave  up  the  uneconomical  C-87  ™^  ^^^^  Accra  to  Oran;  and  the  3  20th 
and  321st  Groups,  following  the  17th  into  Africa  in  December  and 
February,  respectively,  proceeded  via  the  west  coast  to  Marrakech.  At 
the  latter  point,  early  in  January,  Spaatz  set  up  a  control  center  where 

129 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES  IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


aircraft  bound  for  the  United  Kingdom  and  North  Africa  could  be 
sorted  out  and  briefed  accordingly.^^^ 

Despite  all  efforts,  the  medium  bomber  replacement  rate  continued 
unsatisfactory  into  February  and,  with  the  concurrent  shortage  of  re- 
placement pilots  and  crews,  caused  a  serious  lowering  of  morale  in  the 
operating  groups;  during  that  month  it  became  necessary  to  retire  the 
3 1 9th  Group  for  rest  and  refitting.  The  Twelfth  could  not  maintain  the 
policy  of  the  "full  breakfast  table"  so  important  to  morale  and  effective 
operations.  Instead  it  was  forced  to  the  uneconomical  policy  of  reliev- 
ing entire  squadrons  and  groups,  often  in  the  stress  of  battle  when 
transportation  facilities  were  heavily  burdened.^^®  This  unfortunate 
situation  existed  in  an  acute  form  in  the  fighter  groups. 

Because  of  considerations  of  weather  and  their  shorter  range,  fighter 
aircraft  replacements  in  the  winter  of  1942-43  had  to  make  the  jour- 
ney into  the  theater  by  boat,  thus  running  into  the  shortage  of  shipping 
and  the  competition  of  other  cargo.  Of  course,  most  of  the  aircraft  set  up 
for  the  early  phases  of  TORCH  had  been  prepared  by  Eighth  Air 
Force  depots  and  flown  into  Africa;  and  during  December  small  ship- 
ments of  fighters  for  the  Twelfth  were  routed  to  the  United  Kingdom 
simply  because  cargo  space  to  Africa  was  at  a  premium.^^^  By  the  New 
Year,  this  practice  had  ceased  and,  except  for  the  large  backlog  of  air- 
craft the  Eighth  was  still  preparing  for  TORCH,  the  Twelfth  imposed 
no  further  burdens  on  VIII  AFSC.  It  began  to  rely  on  its  own  depots 
and  erection  facilities,  particularly  Cazes  where  assembly  lines— one 
manned  by  French  civilians— had  been  put  into  operation.^^^ 

The  fighter  replacement  problem  first  became  critical  with  the 
P-38's,  which  because  of  their  versatility  and  endurance  were  used  in  a 
variety  of  roles  during  the  early  Tunisian  fighting.  (In  November  1942 
no  other  available  Allied  fighter,  RAF  or  USAAF,  had  the  tactical 
radius  to  operate  from  Youks  against  the  front  at  Djedeida.)  Doolittle 
had  been  forced  to  take  planes  from  the  ist  Group  to  keep  the  14th  at 
strength  and  use  the  Szd  to  make  up  attrition  in  the  ist  and  i^xh}^^ 
Nevertheless,  at  times  the  bomber  command  could  not  find  a  dozen 
P-38's  for  escort,  and  Cannon's  pleas  for  fighters  became  progressively 
more  desperate  during  January/^'' 

The  total  strength  of  the  three  P-38  groups  (minus  one  squadron) 
was  down  to  ninety  when  Arnold  came  to  the  Casablanca  conference. 
He  initiated  drastic  action,^^^  ordering  all  P-38's  in  from  England.  The 
Twelfth  had  already  scoured  the  United  Kingdom  for  P-38's,  and  this 
130 


THE   WINTER  CAMPAIGN 


order  brought  down  the  last  of  the  Eighth's  P-38  units,  the  78  th  Group, 
which  had  been  held  in  "strategic  reserve"  for  Doolittle.^^®  Eisenhower 
having  assigned  the  necessary  priority,  Arnold  sent  instructions  that 
additional  P-38's  were  to  be  sent  from  the  United  States  as  deck  loads 
on  cargo  vessels—a  novel  method  of  carrying  them  on  specially  con- 
structed stands  on  tanker  decks  had  also  been  devised^^^— and  still  others 
were  to  be  flown  over  the  South  Atlantic  via  Ascension. 

By  the  time  of  the  conference,  a  shortage  had  also  developed  in 
P-40's.  The  33d  Group  had  brought  with  it  two  months'  replacements 
(Spaatz  recommended  that  all  groups  committed  to  aii  operation  such 
as  TORCH  carry  along  at  least  the  first  month's  replacements)  but 
it  had  donated  twenty-five  planes  to  re-equip  a  French  squadron,  the 
Lafayette  Escadrille,^^^  and  its  losses  at  Thelepte  began  to  be  heavy. 
Here  the  Ranger  proved  invaluable.  Admiral  King  made  the  carrier 
available  as  a  result  of  a  plea  from  Eisenhower  to  the  War  Department 
in  December:  it  ferried  the  air  echelon  of  the  325th  Group— seventy- 
five  P-40's  and  pilots  diverted  from  the  Ninth  Air  Force—in  mid- 
January,  the  planes  landing  at  Cazes;^^®  at  the  Casablanca  conference 
Arnold  asked  for  its  continued  good  offices,  and  it  brought  seventy-five 
P-40L  replacements  in February.^^*  However,  out  at  Thelepte,  the  33d 
Group,  short  of  new  pilots  and  down  to  thirteen  aircraft  by  the  i  st  of 
February,  had  to  be  relieved  in  the  midst  of  intensive  operations.^^^ 

On  2  February,  Spaatz  reviewed  the  Twelfth's  aircraft  status  for 
AAF  Headquarters  and  indulged  in  some  general  remarks  on  aircraft 
serviceability  in  Africa.^^*  He  reported  that  so  far  as  the  number  of  air- 
craft was  concerned  his  heavy  bomber  situation  was  for  the  moment 
excellent,  permitting  all  replacement  B-iy's  in  Africa  to  be  dispatched 
to  the  United  Kingdom,  and  that  the  low  number  of  heavy  bombers  in 
operation  traced  to  motor  changes  due  to  sand.  He  pointed  out  that  in 
a  theater  like  Africa  in  ordinary  course  no  more  than  50  per  cent  of 
over-all  aircraft  strength  would  be  serviceable  for  operations  and  that, 
therefore,  to  keep  at  strength  an  active  combat  unit,  strength  at  least 
50  per  cent  above  T/O  must  be  available.  On  the  20th  he  was  com- 
plaining of  a  "critical"  situation  in  his  medium  and  light  units  and  had 
warned  the  2d  Air  Defense  Wing  at  La  Senia  that  the  319th  Group 
would  be  retiring  to  Oujda,  turning  over  enough  of  its  B-26's  to  the 
17th  to  bring  the  latter  to  strength/^*^  Not  until  26  March  could  he 
write  home  of  a  "very,  very  noticeable  improvement"  in  replacement 
aircraft.^^® 

131 


CHAPTER  5 
*********** 


DEFEAT  AND  REORGANIZATION 

DOMINATING  the  military  geography  of  central  Tunisia,  the 
I  chief  arena  of  the  contending  armies  in  early  1943,  is  the 
Grand  Dorsal  system  which  begins  by  furnishing  the  south- 
ern rim  of  the  Tunis  plain  and  extends  clear  to  the  Chotts,  the  large  salt 
lakes  west  of  Gabes.  In  the  vicinity  of  Djebel  Fkirine,  two  ranges  of  the 
Grand  Dorsal  become  apparent,  with  the  valleys  between  running  in  a 
generally  southwest  to  northeast  direction.  The  Eastern  Dorsal 
stretches  southward  to  the  Chotts  with  passes  at  Fondouk,  Faid, 
Maknassy,  and  Gafsa,  in  that  order.  The  Western  Dorsal  parallels  it  but 
bends  rather  farther  to  the  west  as  it  approaches  the  Chotts.  In  the 
passes  and  the  empty  valleys  between  these  rugged  systems,  the  battles 
of  central  Tunisia  were  fought.^ 

The  Twelfth  Air  Force  had  first  penetrated  this  general  area  on  1 5 
November  when  Raff's  paratroops  had  jumped  at  Youks-les-Bains,  in 
the  highlands  of  eastern  Algeria.^A  little  more  than  a  week  later,  Youks 
was  harboring  DB-7's  and  P-38's,  which  saw  much  service  during  the 
first  battle  for  Tunis.^  Raff  and  his  French  allies  having  pushed  patrols 
far  to  the  east,  by  the  first  week  in  December,  XII  Fighter  Command 
was  able  to  occupy  one  of  the  most  valuable  airfields  in  the  whole  battle 
zone— Thelepte,  in  the  flatland  between  the  mountainous  interior  and 
the  Western  Dorsal.^  Thelepte  was  dry,  large,  and  adjacent  to  other 
suitable  airfield  sites.  Commanding  the  "installations"  at  Youks  and 
Thelepte  was  Col.  Thomas  W.  Blackburn,  commander  of  XII  Fighter 
Command,  who  received  a  star  on  1 1  December.® 

Blackburn  began  with  two,  later  increased  to  three,^  P-38  squadrons 
and  the  15th  Bombardment  Squadron  (L),  all  working  from  Youks. 
Although  he  was  responsible  for  the  protection  of  the  Franco- 
American  force  in  his  immediate  vicinity,  his  activities  were  subordi- 

132 


sou  TH  ERN 
TUNISIA 

O  AIRPORTS 

•■CITIES  AND  VILLAGES 
^ELEVATIONS 

LAKES  AND  MARSHES 

v<  RAILWAYS 
^ ROAOS 

N^BOUNOARIES 
paMARCTH  UHt 


A 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

nated  to  the  requirements  of  the  northern  sector  while  any  hope  re- 
mained that  Tunis  could  be  taken  in  December.^  Consequently,  his  air- 
craft habitually  went  into  a  region  where  the  GAF  held  air  superiority; 
the  fighters  inevitably  took  some  losses  protecting  their  charges,  but 
their  pilots  discovered  with  satisfaction  that  the  P--38  stacked  up  well 
with  the  current  Me- 109  and  FW-190,  being  able  under  certain  con- 
ditions to  outrun  and  outturn  both  types.®  The  DB-7  outfit,  having  had 
some  operations  with  the  Eighth  Air  Force,  could  be  classed  as  experi- 
enced; actually  it  seems  to  have  done  well  at  Youks,  employing  the 
level-bombing  technique  from  8,000  to  11,000  feet  to  which  it  had 
been  used  in  England,  and  even  reporting  a  high  state  of  maintenance.® 
Eventually,  the  P-38  and  DB-7  ^"^^^s  were  relieved,  the  former  going 
back  to  the  bomber  stations  for  escort  work  and  the  i5th's  pilots  back 
to  the  States. General  Blackburn  received  in  their  stead  the  47th 
Bombardment  Group  (L)  and  the  33d  Fighter  Group,  both  up  from 
Morocco.  The  47th,  commanded  by  Lt.  CoL  F.  R.  Terrell,  had  a  de- 
tachment at  Youks  by  13  December,  and  twenty  additional  A-2oB*s 
came  into  Thelepte  on  the  28th.  It  happened  that  the  47th  had  been 
trained  in  America  in  low-level  support,  a  mode  of  warfare  rendered 
expensive  in  Africa  by  the  excellent  German  light  flak.  As  a  result,  re- 
training had  to  be  undertaken  in  the  midst  of  active  service;  bombsights 
(British  Mark  IX-E)  were  installed  and  student  bombardiers  were  re- 
cruited within  the  group.  In  the  end,  after  the  Kasserine  battle,  the  47th 
was  withdrawn  to  Canrobert  for  retraining  as  well  as  refitting.^^ 
Mqmyer*s  33d  Group  (P-40's),  by  its  own  admission,  also  learned  a 
great  deal  out  at  Thelepte,  its  preceptors  two  squadrons  of  Me-io9G's 
at  Gabes.^^ 

From  14  to  30  December  about  half  of  the  targets  attacked  by 
Blackburn's  planes  faced  British  or  French  units  in  the  northern  sector: 
Pont-du-Fahs,  Mateur,  Massicault,  Sidi  Tabet;  but  after  the  latter  date 
no  missions  went  north  of  Pont-du-Fahs.  The  DB-7's  and  A-20's  hit  at 
docks  twice,  at  shipping  twice,  at  airfields  on  four  occasions,  and  rail- 
road targets  on  nine.^^  Particularly  fortunate  results  attended  the 
maiden  mission  of  the  47th.^*  Blackburn's  activities  also  included  recon- 
naissance in  the  Medenine-Tripoli  atea  where  his  P-38's  could  keep  an 
eye  on  Rommel's  disposition  and  supply  and  often  find  profitable  tar- 
gets of  opportunity.  With  the  onset  of  January,  XII  Fighter  Command 
began  to  take  on  new  targets:  armor  and  troop  concentrations.  On  the 
3d,  reconnoitering  P-40's  reported  approximately  fifty  enemy  tanks 


134 


DEFEAT   AND  REORGANIZATION 


moving  westward  towards  the  French  positions  at  Fondouk,  All  the 
fighter  command's  efforts  were  directed  against  this  excursion,  but  the 
Panzers  proved  both  formidable  and  elusive,  quick  to  turn  effective 
fire  on  low-flying  aircraft,  burrowing  into  bushes,  and  camouflaging 
themselves  when  caught  in  the  open.^^ 

The  increasing  number  of  Germans  in  central  Tunisia  was  a  reliable 
indication  that  large  enterprises  were  in  store  for  the  area.  As  part  of 
the  American  preparations,  XII  Fighter  Command  was  relieved  and 
XII  Air  Support  Command,  which  had  at  last  got  quit  of  Morocco,  was 
substituted.  Brig.  Gen.  Howard  A.  Craig  taking  command  on  lo  Janu- 
ary.i®  What  was  afoot  on  the  Allied  side  was  Operation  SATIN,  a 
project  in  which  II  Corps  was  scheduled  for  a  prominent  role. 

SATIN  took  its  inception  around  Christmas  from  Eisenhower's  re- 
luctant conclusion  that  an  assault  on  the  drenched  northern  front  was 
not  a  practicable  operation  of  war  and  from  his  unwillingness  to  allow 
the  opposition  any  rest,  Clark's  headquarters  commenced  the  planning 
in  December  and  II  Corps  staff  assembled  in  Algiers  on  New  Year's 
Day  to  begin  preparations.  At  least  three  alternative  plans  were  drawn, 
all  requiring  the  SATIN  Task  Force,  of  which  the  U.S.  ist  Armored 
Division  was  the  core,  to  be  concentrated  forward  of  Tebessa.  Sfax 
might  be  taken,  followed  by  a  swing  northwards  towards  Sousse;  or 
Gabes  and  Sfax  captured  in  that  order;  or  Kairouan  could  be  taken  as 
preliminary  to  an  advance  on  Sousse.  Basically,  SATIN  was  a  large- 
scale  raid  on  Rommel's  communications,  for  the  bulk  of  his  supplies 
were  coming  down  to  Sfax  by  rail  from  Tunis  and  Bizerte.  It  was  not 
anticipated  that  the  coastal  towns  would  necessarily  be  held.^*^ 

The  project  had  its  risks.  In  the  first  instance,  success  depended  on  a 
coordinated  attack  by  the  Eighth  Army  on  the  Mareth  Line,  the  old 
French  works  in  which  Rommel  was  expected  to  make  his  stand.  Fail- 
ing such  a  conjuncture,  Rommel  could  easily  detach  enough  strength 
to  jeopardize  SATIN's  southern  flank  and  its  communications  with 
Algeria.  SATIN's  other  flank  was  similarly  vulnerable  to  a  known  con- 
centration of  enemy  armor  around  Kairouan.  Reluctantly,  Eisenhower 
accepted  the  fact  that  Anderson's  British  First  Army  would  have  to  be 
simultaneously  expended  in  local  containing  attacks  in  the  north;  he 
was  trying  to  build  up  Anderson  for  decisive  action  in  the  spring.  Once 
east  of  the  Tebessa  railheads,  all  SATIN  supplies  would  have  to  pro- 
ceed in  trucks  i6o  miles  to  the  sea.  Trucks  were  scarce,  but  it  was 


135 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


hoped  that  by  dint  of  Middle  East  convoys  maintenance  could  be  con- 
siderably eased.^^ 

Another  complication  was  the  French  sector.  Early  in  December, 
Giraud  had  suggested  to  AFHQ  that  his  units  take  over  the  defense  of 
the  Eastern  Dorsal,  a  step  which  recommended  itself  on  several  counts. 
The  scant  Anglo-American  forces  needed  help;  political  and  morale 
problems  might  thereby  be  eased;  and  the  mountains  seemed  a  rela- 
tively good  location  for  the  ill-equipped  French.  But,  by  the  time  that 
SATIN  was  ready  to  take  the  field,  the  French  sector  had  assumed 
crucial  importance  as  the  only  link  between  II  Corps  and  the  First 
Army.  Not  only  was  the  link  weak  but  Barre  and  Juin  refused  to  be 
subordinated  to  Anderson,  who  alone  had  the  signal  communications  to 
control  the  entire  front.  Eisenhower  had  to  take  personal  command, 
shuttling  between  Algiers  and  a  command  post  at  Constantine.^® 

If  these  factors  had  given  Eisenhower  pause  about  SATIN,  what  he 
learned  on  15  January  from  Alexander  at  Casablanca  about  the  Eighth 
Army's  schedule  caused  him  definitely  to  abandon  the  original  con- 
ception. Rommel  was  nearing  Tunisia  at  a  fast  clip,  but  the  Eighth 
Army  did  not  expect  to  reach  Tripoli  before  late  January  or  to  be  in  a 
position  to  attack  the  Mareth  Line  before  the  middle  of  February.  A 
coordinated  attack  on  the  SATIN  D-day,  23  January,  was  impossible, 
and  Rommel  would  have  the  elbow  room  to  drive  against  SATIN's 
flank.  On  his  return  from  the  Anfa  camp,  Eisenhower  informed 
Fredendall,  whom  he  had  appointed  task  force  commander  on  i  Janu- 
ary after  deciding  that  he  needed  Clark  to  head  the  Fifth  Army,  that 
there  would  be  no  excursions  to  the  coast.  He  did  not,  however,  pro- 
pose to  adopt  a  purely  defensive  attitude  in  central  Tunisia  and  in- 
structed II  Corps  to  act  as  aggressively  as  possible  against  the  Axis  com- 
munications without  committing  its  main  forces.  On  17  January  he 
radioed  the  commanders  in  chief,  Middle  East,  that  they  could  cancel 
their  arrangements  for  convoys  to  Sfax  or  Gabes.^^ 

Air-Ground  Cooperation  in  Central  Tunisia 

In  the  orders  for  air  support  which  went  forward  on  i  January, 
Welsh  was  to  provide  assistance  from  242  Group,  insofar  as  it  was  not 
conunitted  at  the  time  to  the  First  Army,  but  the  main  burden  lay  with 
XII  Air  Support  Command.  XII ASC  became  responsible  not  only  for 
cooperation  with  II  Corps  but  for  meeting  requests  for  aid  from  French 
elements  south  of  an  east-west  line  through  Dechret  bou  Dabouss  (on 

136 


DEFEAT   AND  REORGANIZATION 

the  approximate  latitude  of  Sousse) ,  these  requests  to  be  passed  through 
Fredendall.  Moreover,  XII  ASC  was  empowered  to  arrange  mutual 
assistance  with  242  Group  to  the  north.^^ 

The  doctrines  of  air  support  current  in  the  U.  S.  Army  in  January 
1943  stemmed  from  War  Department  Field  Manual  31-35  of  9  April 
1942,  Aviation  in  Support  of  Ground  Forces,  and  little  resembled  the 
doctrines  employed  in  later  European  campaigns,  for  the  reason  that 
FM  31-35  was  tried  in  Africa,  found  wanting,  and  superseded.  The 
outstanding  characteristic  of  the  manual  lay  in  its  subordination  of  the 
air  force  to  ground  force  needs  and  to  the  purely  local  situation.  By  its 
prescription,  the  air  support  commander  functioned  under  the  army 
commander,  and  aircraft  might  be  specifically  allocated  to  the  support 
of  subordinate  ground  units.  Although  conceding  that  attacks  on  the 
hostile  air  force  might  be  necessary  (when  other  air  forces  were  inade- 
quate or  unavailable)  and  that  local  air  superiority  was  to  be  desired, 
the  manual  recited  that  "the  most  important  target  at  a  particular  time 
will  usually  be  that  target  which  constitutes  the  most  serious  threat  to 
the  operations  of  the  supported  ground  force.  The  final  decision  as  to 
priority  of  targets  rests  with  the  commander  of  the  supported  unit." 
With  him  also  lay  the  decision  as  to  whether  a  particular  air  support 
mission  would  be  ordered.  Both  as  to  command  and  employment  of 
air  power  (which  were  nearly  inseparable)  the  American  doctrines 
were  at  variance  with  those  developed  and  so  successfully  tested  in 
battle  by  the  Eighth  Army-RAF,  ME  partnership  in  the  West- 
ern Desert. 

Nor  had  the  scrutiny  of  the  combined  staff  that  planned  TORCH 
made  any  great  impression  on  the  received  doctrine.  The  spirit  of  FM 
31-35  was  echoed  by  AFHQs  Operation  Memorandum  17  of  13 
October  1942,^^  which  theoretically  prescribed  the  air  support  arrange- 
ments for  the  Allied  Force.  Although  not  a  great  improvement,  this 
document  did  stress  that  air  support  was  an  important  means  of  pre- 
venting the  arrival  of  hostile  reserves  and  reinforcements;  and  it  con- 
tained the  monitory  statement  that  support  aircraft  should  not  be  "frit- 
tered away''  on  unimportant  targets  but  "reserved  for  concentration  in 
overwhelming  attack  upon  important  objectives." 

In  appointing  Craig  to  head  XII  ASC,  the  higher  command  had  hit  on 
one  of  the  few  officers  in  the  Allied  Force  who  was  at  all  familiar  with 
Western  Desert  practice.  Craig  had  accompanied  Tedder  on  his  return 
to  the  Middle  East  on  17  December.  In  Cairo  he  had  visited  the  com- 


137 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


bined  war  room,  and  when  it  turned  out  that  his  plane  needed  an  engine 
change  before  he  could  return,  he  utilized  the  interval,  at  Tedder's  sug- 
gestion, for  a  trip  to  the  army-air  headquarters  near  Marble  Arch  in 
Tripolitania.  Coningham  met  him  at  the  airfield  and  flew  him  in  a  cap- 
tured Storch  to  the  RAF  command  post,  where  he  had  dinner  with 
Montgomery  and  absorbed  a  good  deal  of  the  current  thinking  on 
army-air  operations.^® 

On  9  January,  Craig's  air  establishment  consisted  of  two  under- 
strength  squadrons  of  the  33d  Fighter  Group  and  the  entire  47th  Bom- 
bardment Group;  the  P-38's  of  the  14th  Group  were  then  in  process  of 
being  withdrawn.  The  airdrome  situation  had  been  somewhat  im- 
proved. Besides  Youks,  inclined  to  mud,  there  were  Thelepte,  forward 
landing  grounds  at  Gafsa  and  Sbeitla,  and  construction  under  way  or 
contemplated  at  Tebessa,  Le  Kouif,  and  Kalaa  Djerda.  In  addition,  if 
SATIN  had  broken  through  to  the  coast,  according  to  the  original  in- 
tention, XII ASC  could  have  counted  on  airfields  at  Gabes  and  Sf ax  and 
numerous  good  landing-strip  sites  in  the  coastal  plain. 

Craig  could  not  overlook  the  deficiencies  of  his  command.  He  called 
attention  to  the  low  serviceability  of  the  33d  Group  and  the  'Ineffec- 
tiveness" of  the  47th,  which,  considered  poorly  trained  in  all  respects, 
he  recommended  be  withdrawn.  He  sought  clarification  of  the  status 
of  the  Lafayette  Escadrille,  scheduled  shortly  to  arrive  in  his  area,  as  the 
impression  prevailed  at  Tebessa  that  the  French  army  would  control 
this  unit.  On  1 1  January,  after  a  conference  at  corps  headquarters  at 
Constantine,  Craig  came  to  the  conclusion  that  he  had  not  enough  air 
power  to  perform  his  mission;  considering  the  ambitious  nature  of  the 
current  SATIN  design,  he  was  entirely  right.  Doolittle  radioed  back 
that  reinforcements  were  indeed  contemplated,  and  he  concurred  in 
XII  ASC's  plan  to  conserve  its  operational  strength  for  the  forth- 
coming test.^^ 

Perhaps  reflecting  this  conservation  policy,  XII  ASC  was  relatively 
inactive,  except  for  normal  reconnaissance  and  repelling  constant  raids 
on  its  fields,  in  the  period  from  8  to  18  January,  II  Corps  was  still  in 
preparation,  and  the  Germans  and  Italians  made  no  immediate  move. 
Craig  began  receiving  the  promised  reinforcements:  the  91st  and  gid 
Squadrons  of  the  81st  (P-39*s)  and  the  Lafayette  Escadrille  (P-40's). 
He  landed  the  P-39's  on  a  level  stretch  of  road  and  parked  them  in 
bushes  to  conceal  them  from  the  active  GAF.  The  chief  operation  of 
note  took  place  on  the  loth.  The  enterprising  Maj.  Philip  Cochran, 

138 


DEFEAT    AND  REORGANIZATION 

then  commanding  the  33d  Group's  58th  Squadron,  dropped  a  500- 
pounder  squarely  on  the  Hotel  Splendida,  German  headquarters  at 
Kairouan,  demolishing  the  building;  and  on  the  same  day  the  A-20's 
went  down  to  Kebili,  beyond  the  Chott  Djerid,  for  a  low-level  attack 
on  a  military  camp.^^ 

On  the  evening  of  1 7  January,  II  Corps  began  moving  up  from  the 
Constantine-Guelma  area;  already  battalions  of  American  infantry 
were  at  Kasserine  and  Gafsa.  Facing  II  Corps  in  the  sector  from 
Fondouk  to  Maknassy  was  the  equivalent  of  one  strong  division  of 
mixed  German  and  Italian  infantry  and  an  armored  force  possessing 
about  100  to  115  light  and  medium  tanks,  exclusive  of  the  loth  Panzer 
Division  north  of  Kairouan.  On  1 8  January  the  Germans  struck  with 
Unternehmen  Eilbote  (Operation  COURIER) .^^ 

The  blow  fell,  characteristically,  at  the  junction  of  the  French  and 
British  sectors  in  the  Bou  Arada-Pont-du-Fahs  area,  the  main  attack 
threatening  to  flow  down  the  Robaa  valley  and  cut  off  the  French  posi- 
tions in  the  mountains  to  the  east.  As  the  French  drew  back,  the  British 
and  Americans  began  to  come  to  their  aid,  with  detachments  of  the 
British  6  Armoured  Division  and  Combat  Command  B  of  the  U.S.  ist 
Armored.  Moreover,  an  American  reserve  force  was  directed  to  Mak- 
tar.  By  the  19th  the  British  had  begun  to  exert  pressure  on  the  enemy 
flank  at  Bou  Arada.  Nevertheless,  the  Germans  were  able  to  penetrate 
far  down  the  valley  and  join  two  separate  columns  at  Robaa  village. 

On  20  January  another  attack  developed.  The  Germans  stormed 
Djebel  Chirich,  controlling  the  entrance  to  the  Ousseltia  valley,  east  of 
and  paralleling  the  Robaa  valley,  and  once  again  drove  down  the  valley 
floor,  isolating  the  French  in  the  Eastern  Dorsal.  During  the  night 
enemy  detachments  reached  Ousseltia  village.  By  the  2 2d  the  situation 
had  somewhat  improved,  with  the  6  Armoured  establishing  itself  on  the 
Robaa-Pont-du-Fahs  road  and  Combat  Command  B  moving  up  the 
Ousseltia  valley  itself.  Next  day  under  cover  of  Combat  Command  B 
the  French  were  able  to  extricate  themselves  from  the  Eastern  Dorsal 
north  of  the  Ousseltia-Kairouan  road.  By  25  January  the  enemy  attack 
was  spent.^' 

The  Axis  assault  on  the  French  exposed  at  least  one  weakness  of  the 
air  support  doctrines  then  in  use  along  the  Tunisian  front.  During  the 
first  three  days  of  the  Robaa-Ousseltia  action,  XII  ASC  did  not  fly  any 
missions  in  the  area  nor  were  its  aircraft  especially  active  on  its  own 
front.  The  fighting  lay  north  of  the  Dechret  bou  Dabouss  line  beyond 

139 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


which  the  RAF  had  been  originally  responsible,  and  242  Group  had 
obliged  by  laying  on  Hurribomber  sorties  against  such  targets  as  the 
Germans  and  Italians  presented.  However,  II  Corps,  which  controlled 
XII  ASC,  at  one  point  refused  a  French  request  for  air  reconnaissance 
on  the  grounds  that  it  had  no  responsibilities  or  interest  in  the  area.  It 
was  true  that  about  seventy  miles  of  rugged  terrain  separated  the 
ground  organizations,  but  such  a  distance  was  of  course  no  barrier  to 
General  Craig's  aircraft.^^ 

On  22  January,  Spaatz  dispatched  Tedder  a  message  describing  the 
air  support  situation  as  critical.  He  informed  the  air  marshal  that  he  was 
forced  immediately  to  implement  part  of  the  Casablanca-approved 
organization.  Kuter,  who  had  been  transferred  from  England  to  be- 
come A- 3,  Allied  Air  Force,  was  to  be  assigned  as  acting  commander  of 
a  coordinating  air  support  organization  until  Air  Marshal  Coningham 
could  arrive.  Coningham's  early  arrival  was  of  the  utmost  importance, 
said  Spaatz.  Kuter  would  control  the  twin  organizations  XII  ASC  and 
242  Group  and  cooperate  with  General  Anderson,  who  in  the  emer- 
gency had  been  given  power  to  coordinate  II  Corps  and  the  French 
sector.  Also,  on  2 1  January,  Col.  Paul  L.  Williams  succeeded  Craig, 
who  had  come  down  with  pneumonia,  as  commander  of  XII  ASC.^^ 

Spaatz  had  Kuter 's  directive  ready  on  the  2 2d,  and  by  the  next  day 
the  new  commander  had  a  cable  address  and  a  chief  of  staff,  CoL  John 
De  F.  Barker,  at  First  Army  headquarters  in  Constantine.  His  organiza- 
tion was  known  as  the  Allied  Air  Support  Command  and  was  the  lineal 
ancestor  of  the  Northwest  African  Tactical  Air  Force.  By  2  5  January, 
Kuter  and  AASC  were  in  operation,  passing  bombing  requests  back  to 
Twelfth  Air  Force  and  Eastern  Air  Command.^^ 

After  25  January  the  Allies  were  able  to  stabilize  the  situation  in  the 
Ousseltia  valley,  with  Combat  Command  B,  under  Brig.  Gen.  P.  L. 
Robinett,  patrolling  north  from  Ousseltia.  Next  day  the  26th  RCT 
attacked  Kairouan  Pass  in  the  Ousseltia  valley  and  took  400  Italian 
prisoners.  The  Germans  retired  up  the  valley,  strewed  it  with  mines, 
and  went  on  the  defensive  in  the  high  ground  at  its  northern  end.  Until 
rain  curtailed  activity  after  the  24th,  XII  ASC  gave  more  substantial  aid 
than  in  the  early  days  of  the  operation.  On  the  2 2d,  ten  P-39's  of  the 
8 1  St  Group,  together  with  sixteen  P-40's  from  the  33d  and  the 
Lafayette  Escadrille,  swept  the  battle  area,  strafing  tanks,  trucks,  and 
machine-gun  positions,  losing  one  P-40  in  the  process;  that  afternoon 
the  A-2o's  bombed  a  tank  depot  seventeen  miles  NNE  of  Ousseltia. 

140 


DEFEAT   AND  REORGANIZATION 


Next  day  an  attack  coordinated  with  the  ground  forces  was  laid  on 
against  two  infantry  companies  and  heavy  batteries.  Half  a  dozen 
A-2o's  dropped  a  mixture  of  loo-,  300-,  and  500-pound  GP's  and 
8  X  120-pound  frag  clusters  from  3,000  feet.  Prisoners  stated  that  two 
ammunition  dumps  were  destroyed.^^ 

By  26  January  the  operational  strength  of  XII ASC  had  been  built  to 
fifty- two  P-40's,  twenty- three  P-39's,  twenty-seven  A-20's,  and  eight 
DB-y's.'^^  But  most  of  the  units  in  this  considerable  force  labored  under 
handicaps  of  one  sort  or  another.  The  47th  Group's  training  has 
already  been  mentioned.  The  Lafayette  Escadrille  had  been  re- 
equipped  by  the  Americans  largely  as  a  political  gesture.  With  pitifully 
inadequate  experience  in  P-40's,  and  without  equipment  or  ground 
echelon,  it  was  sent  up  to  Thelepte.^^  The  8ist  also  had  its  difficulties. 
On  the  group's  flight  down  from  England,  its  commander  had  been 
interned  in  Portugal.  At  Thelepte,  at  first  no  one  knew  how  to  use  the 
P-39;  its  performance  showed  it  to  be  no  fighter  aircraft.  Eventually, 
its  specialty  became  "rhubarbs"— strafing  or  reconnaissance  missions 
carried  out  at  minimum  altitude  with  P-40's  or  Spitfires  covering. 
Although  the  plane  was  remarkably  resistant  to  flak,  P-39  pilots  soon 
gave  up  the  practice  of  making  more  than  one  run  on  a  target  or  attack- 
ing where  AA  installations  were  known  to  be  present.^* 

The  Ousseltia  thrust  had  been  checked,  but  it  had  once  more  demon- 
strated the  inability  of  the  French  army  to  withstand  modern  armored 
onslaught.  That  Von  Arnim  would  launch  further  attacks  to  gain  pro- 
tective depth  for  his  communications  with  Rommel,  and  that  the  blows 
would  fall  on  the  French  XIX  Corps  between  Pichon  and  Faid,  were 
appreciated  as  virtual  certainties  at  AFHQ;  the  Allies  envisioned  fall- 
ing back  as  far  as  Sbeitla  and  Feriana.  As  precautionary  measures, 
Anderson  was  directed  to  concentrate  a  mobile  reserve  south  of  the 
First  Army  sector,  some  French  units  were  relieved,  and  fresh  U.S.  and 
British  troops  were  hurried  forward  as  best  the  transportation  bottle- 
neck allowed. 

XII  ASC  continued  to  assault  the  enemy  whenever  opportunity 
offered.  On  27  January  half  a  dozen  A-20's  with  P-40  escort  raided  the 
road-junction  town  of  Mezzouna,  east  of  Maknassy,  and  next  day 
when  the  ground  forces  reported  the  location  of  hostiles  in  the  Ous- 
seltia valley,  twelve  P-40's  obliged  with  a  strafing  attack.  Gafsa  was 
now  being  used  as  an  advanced  landing  ground,  and  on  the  28th  a  trio 
of  Me-109's  destroyed  three  A-20's  which  had  landed  there  to  refuel. 

141 


THE  ARMY   AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 


On  the  29th  two  missions  of  a  dozen  escorted  A-20's  searched  in  vain 
for  fugitive  enemy  truck  concentrations.^^ 

With  the  waning  of  the  Ousseltia  action,  II  Corps  regrouped.  Com- 
bat Command  B  was  withdrawn  behind  Feriana  to  Bou  Chebka,  and 
Combat  Command  C— one  battalion  of  medium  tanks,  one  battalion  of 
infantry,  and  one  battalion  of  field  artillery— moved  south  to  reinforce 
Gafsa.  At  Sbeitla  lay  Combat  Command  A,  of  equal  strength,  and 
the  26th  RCT. 

On  30  January  the  Germans  moved  again,  attacking  the  French  at 
Faid  Pass.  Employing  sixty  to  seventy  tanks,  the  push  captured  Faid  by 
1900  hours,  but  the  French  fell  back  and  maintained  themselves  at  Sidi 
bou  Zid,  a  few  miles  to  the  west.  Combat  Command  A  and  the  26th 
RCT  immediately  moved  east  from  Sbeitla,  and  other  elements  of  the 
I  St  Armored  were  ordered  to  attack  Maknassy  from  Gafsa  to  relieve 
the  pressure  on  Faid.  Reacting  vigorously  to  the  German  drive,  all 
day  long  Williams'  aircraft  bombed  and  strafed  around  Faid.  At  1015 
hours  eleven  P-40's,  six  P-39*s,  and  six  A-20's  were  off  against  tanks  in 
the  pass;  they  claimed  to  have  left  twelve  burning.  The  P-39's  strafed 
and  burned  a  half-dozen  trucks,  and  all  aircraft  returned  safely.  Around 
noon,  sixty  more  loo-pounders  were  dropped  on  a  vehicle  concentra- 
tion, but  one  of  the  strafing  P-39's  was  shot  down  and  the  pilot  killed.^^ 

On  the  31st,  Combat  Command  A  attacked  the  enemy  positions  at 
Faid,  but  the  Germans,  having  brought  in  artillery  which  outranged 
the  American  guns,  withstood  all  attacks  that  day  and  succeeding  ones. 
A  good  part  of  Colonel  Williams'  effort  on  the  3  ist  was  absorbed  in  de- 
fensive patrols  over  the  ground  forces  at  Faid  and  over  Combat  Com- 
mand D  attacking  towards  Maknassy,  where  eight  of  the  33d  Group's 
P-40's  engaged  four  to  seven  Me-109's,  losing  two  to  the  enemy's  one. 
However  the  33  d,  abetted  by  the  8ist  Group,  took  the  A-20's  on  two 
offensive  missions  back  of  the  enemy  lines,  to  Bou  Thadi,  northwest  of 
Sf  ax,  and  to  the  railroad  east  of  Maknassy. 

On  the  I  St  of  February,  Combat  Command  D  captured  Sened  Sta- 
tion. On  the  day  before,  the  unit  had  taken  a  severe  cuffing  from  the 
Stukas,  in  one  instance  unwisely  bringing  troops  up  to  a  detrucking 
point  in  vehicles  ranged  almost  nose  to  tail.  According  to  Kuter,  who 
spent  some  time  studying  the  subject,  this  attack  represented  the  only 
occasion  when  the  Stukas  wrought  any  great  casualties  on  American 
troops.  But  ever  since  the  Anglo-American  repulse  at  Tebourba  in 
November,  the  ground  commanders  had  harped  on  the  necessity  for 
142 


DEFEAT   AND  REORGANIZATION 

aerial  umbrellas.  As  Eisenhower  pointed  out  in  a  report  home,  the 
troops  were  inexperienced  and  inadequately  supplied  with  light  flak, 
and  the  Stuka  was  a  terrifying  if  not  terribly  effective  weapon.^'  Conse- 
quently, on  I  February,  XII  ASC  ran  five  cover  missions  over  the 
Sened  area,  the  earliest  of  which  caught  two  dozen  Ju-87's  coming  in 
with  an  Me- 109  escort.  The  P-40's  broke  up  the  attack,  shot  down 
three  Stukas  with  two  probables  and  five  damaged;  two  P-40's  were 
shot  down  and  a  third  listed  as  missing.  The  A-20's  were  also  active 
that  morning  against  a  tank  and  vehicle  concentration  near  Faid.^® 

XII  ASC,  as  an  analysis  of  the  types  of  its  missions  showed,^®  was  still 
fighting  according  to  the  book,  the  book  being  FM  3 1-35.  Having  no 
offensive  radar  coverage,  it  was  severely  taxed  to  provide  umbrellas  and 
at  the  same  time  escort  the  A-20*s  and  P-39's.  (One  P-39  squadron  of 
the  68th  Observation  Group  had  arrived  at  Thelepte  late  in  January, 
which  added  to  the  escort  problem.)  On  2  February  the  command  suf- 
fered serious  losses  attempting  to  protect  the  wide  front.  The  first 
cover  mission,  six  P-40's  and  four  P-39's,  encountered  twenty  to  thirty 
Stukas  and  eight  to  ten  Me-109's  over  Sened  Station.  Although  one 
Ju-87  was  destroyed,  five  P-40's  were  lost.  A  reconnaissance  mission  of 
six  P-40's  and  four  P-39's  which  went  out  to  the  Kairouan  area  fared 
little  better.  Two  more  P-40's  on  A-20  escort  duty  were  lost  fighting 
off  Me~io9's.  The  33d  Group,  Williams'  most  experienced  and  effec- 
tive fighter  unit,  had  finally  either  to  receive  replacements  or  be  re- 
lieved. P-4oF's,  thanks  to  the  Ranger^  were  available  from  the  325th 
Group,  but  replacement  pilots  were  not  available  from  any  source. 
Consequently,  it  was  necessary  to  bring  in  an  entirely  new  organiza- 
tion. The  3 1  St  Group  (Spitfires)  began  arriving  at  Thelepte  on  6  Feb- 
ruary; earlier,  two  squadrons  of  the  5  2d  had  also  been  attached  to  XII 
ASC.  The  survivors  of  the  33d  went  back  to  Morocco  for  a  rest  and 
to  pass  on  their  experience  to  the  3  2  5th.*^ 

Because  of  the  failure  to  eject  the  Germans  from  the  key  position  at 
Faid  Pass,  Combat  Command  D  was  ordered  to  withdraw  from  Sened 
Station;  by  4  February  there  remained  in  the  southern  area  only  one 
battalion  of  infantry,  at  Gafsa.  Combat  Command  B,  meanwhile,  had 
been  moved  to  Hadjeb-el-Aioun  and  thence  to  Maktar  under  the  mis- 
taken impression  that  the  enemy  intended  to  thrust  from  Fondouk  and 
Pichon  into  the  Ousseltia  valley.  Defensive  positions  were  also  taken 
up  before  Faid." 

Part  of  XII  ASC's  hard  going  was  undoubtedly  traceable  to  the  fact 


143 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


that  the  German  squadrons  operating  against  it  had  been  strengthened 
by  the  remains  of  the  Desert  Luftwaffe  and  lAF,  which  had  come  in 
from  Libya.  The  Eighth  Army  had  captured  Tripoli  on  23  Janu- 
ary. By  the  end  of  the  month  its  patrols  were  over  the  Tunisian 
border.  XII  Bomber  Command  had  struck  at  Rommel's  air  at  the  Me- 
denine  landing  grounds  on  24  January;  and  early  in  February,  by  re- 
quest of  Allied  Air  Support  Command,  it  attempted  by  counter-air 
force  action  to  relieve  the  pressure  on  XII  ASC/^ 

The  mediums  proceeded  to  give  the  coastal  airdromes  the  frag- 
cluster  treatment.  Ten  parked  aircraft  were  assessed  as  destroyed  at 
Gabes  on  3 1  January  and  three  more  at  Sfax  on  2  February.  Two  P-38's 
and  a  B-25  were  lost  on  these  strikes.  On  3  February,  ten  more  parked 
aircraft  had  to  be  written  off  at  Gabes;  the  enemy  fighters,  coming  up 
for  a  40-minute  battle,  caused  the  crashes  of  one  B-26  and  three  P-38's 
but  reportedly  lost  three  themselves.  The  afternoon  of  4  February  was 
a  busy  time  at  the  fields  around  Gabes.  The  B-17's— 97th  and  301st 
Groups— the  B-25's  of  the  3  loth,  and  the  B-26's  of  the  17th  all  obliged 
with  a  visit,  but  only  the  heavies  bombed,  the  others  being  prevented  by 
bad  weather.^^  Four  days  later,  another  strike  at  Gabes  brought  the  op- 
position up  in  force.  Fourteen  P-38's  of  the  82d  Group  escorted  in  fif- 
teen B-26's  and  eighteen  B-25's.  The  B-25's  took  a  severe  mauling  from 
interceptors  which  began  attacking  before  the  target  was  reached  and 
persevered  as  far  back  as  the  Algerian  border.  The  B-25  gunners  re- 
portedly shot  down  four  Me-109's,  but  four  bombers  were  also  shot 
down  and  two  crash-landed  at  base.  The  escort  meanwhile  was  per- 
forming earnestly,  claiming  eight  enemy  fighters  for  one  P-38,  and  the 
B-26's  were  having  an  argument  of  their  own  with  twenty  to  thirty 
fighters  which  attacked  just  after  the  bomb  run  and  likewise  tried  con- 
clusions all  the  way  to  the  Algerian  border.  The  B-26*s  claimed 
six  of  them."** 

After  Combat  Command  A's  repulse  at  Faid,  uneasy  quiet  reigned  for 
a  time  along  II  Corps'  front  and  the  French  sector  to  the  north.  German 
tanks  and  M/T  began  appearing  on  the  Gabes-Gafsa  road  and  around 
Maknassy.  With  Rommel  snug  for  the  time  in  the  Mareth  Line,  it  was 
accepted  that  the  Axis  was  about  to  make  a  last  effort  to  disrupt  the 
Allied  timetable,  the  locale  of  the  stroke  anywhere  from  Pont-du-Fahs 
to  Gafsa.*^  Meanwhile,  the  Allied  Air  Support  Command  was  develop- 
ing in  consonance  with  the  command  arrangements  agreed  on  at  Casa- 
blanca. On  7  February,  Kuter  wired  Spaatz  that  he  was  exercising  oper- 

144 


\ 

DEFEAT   ANi>  REORGANIZATION 

ational,  but  not  administrative,  control  of  242  Group  and  XII  ASC. 
Within  a  week  the  headquarters  of  the  i8th  Army  Group,  from  which 
Alexander  would  supervise  the  Tunisian  battle,  was  to  be  set  up  at  Con- 
stantine,  and  headquarters  of  the  First  Army  would  be  going  forward. 
Kuter  thereupon  decided  to  send  the  greater  part  of  his  staff  with  the 
First  Army,  but  himself  to  remain  with  i8th  Army  Group  so  that  the 
air  forces  might  be  represented  at  that  headquarters  from  the  start/® 

The  War  against  the  Enemy's  Supply 

Despite  the  many  disappointments  that  the  Allies  had  suffered  in 
North  Africa— the  bitter  repulse  at  Djedeida  which  condemned  the 
armies  to  the  cold  and  mud  of  a  Tunisian  winter,  the  enemy's  spoiling 
attacks  in  the  Robaa-Ousseltia  sector  and  at  Faid  Pass  which  had  par- 
celed out  II  Corps  to  the  defense  of  the  Eastern  Dorsal— Allied  councils 
entertained  no  doubts  that  in  good  time  their  armies  would  liquidate  the 
Axis  bridgehead.  At  Casablanca,  Sir  Alan  Brooke  had  even  set  30  April 
as  the  probable  date.  Given  Axis  commitments  elsewhere,  the  dominant 
element  in  this  confidence  was  the  disadvantageous  Axis  supply 
situation."**^ 

On  the  Allied  side  the  convoys,  stalked  by  submarines,  came  initially 
to  Casablanca,  Oran,  and  Algiers.  Anything  bound  east  of  Oran  had  to 
be  fought  through  as  "Bomb  Alley"  came  into  operation.  The  most 
hazardous  stretch  of  coast  was  between  Algiers  and  Bone;  unescorted 
LSI's  shuttled  back  and  forth  and  the  convoys  went  up  in  two-week 
cycles.  Bone  itself  was  the  Luftwaffe's  favorite  target:  two  thousand 
bombs  of  various  potencies  were  dropped  on  it  from  1 3  December  to 
I  February,  but  despite  this  hammering,  127,600  deadweight  tons  of 
cargo  were  discharged.  Particularly  heavy  raids  occurred  early  in  Jan- 
uary, the  situation  being  improved  only  by  laying  hands  on  all  available 
French  AA  and  by  the  importation  of  night  fighters  from  England/® 

By  strictly  geographical  comparison  the  enemy  supply  line  was  far 
superior.  Covered  by  the  Luftwaffe  and  the  lAF,  it  led  from  Naples  to 
Sicily's  north  coast  (in  deference  to  Malta)  and  from  Trapani  and 
Palermo  across  the  narrow  straits  to  Tunisia— contrary  to  a  widespread 
impression,  90  per  cent  of  the  Axis  flow  of  men  and  materials  was  sea- 
borne, only  10  per  cent  airborne.  The  Royal  Navy  maintained  in  the 
Mediterranean  Force  H,  battleships  and  a  carrier,  which,  in  hopes  that 
the  Italian  fleet  would  come  out,  indulged  in  sweeps  from  Gibraltar 
towards  the  Balearics  and  in  an  occasional  visit  to  Algiers;  and,  more 

145 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 


particularly,  at  Bone  the  aggressive  Force  Q,  cruisers  and  destroyers, 
searching  by  night  the  Strait  of  Sicily.  Force  Q,  abetted  by  day  and 
night  bomber  strikes  on  the  ports  and  by  air  and  submarine  action  in  the 
strait,  had  already  been  able  to  inflict  considerable  damage.  As  addition- 
al Allied  air  power  was  emplaced  in  Africa  and  Malta,  it  was  certain 
that  the  weight  of  these  attacks  would  increase.  If  the  Luftwaffe  and 
the  lAF  suffered  serious  interim  attrition,  Tunisia  might  be  altogether 
cut  off.^^ 

Whatever  the  future  prospects,  during  November  and  December 
the  Axis  short  line  to  Tunisia  ran  at  fairly  high  efficiency,  although 
ships  on  the  Libya  run  were  being  butchered.  After  the  first  impact  of 
TORCH  the  enemy  passed  his  ships  across  regardless  of  risk;  indeed 
he  did  not  for  the  moment  suffer  greatly,  for  although  British  sub- 
marines had  been  concentrated  at  once  on  the  Sicilian  strait  and  Malta- 
based  Albacores  prowled  the  area  by  night,  their  efforts  were  mostly 
frustrated  by  weather.  After  the  Allies  were  a  little  better  established 
in  Africa,  the  hunting  improved;  the  Albacores  began  taking  toll,  and 
on  the  early  morning  of  2  December,  Force  Q  found  a  convoy  from 
Palermo.  The  cruisers  Aurora^  Argonaut,  and  Sirius,  with  two  de- 
stroyers, sank  or  fired  four  enemy  supply  ships  and  three  enemy 
destroyers.^^ 

The  Germans  and  Italians  thereupon  gave  up  the  night  crossing. 
They  laid  mine  fields  and  crossed  by  day.  The  channel  thus  canalized 
was  assailed  by  British  submarines,  which  did  good  work  but  soon 
found  the  going  too  hard.  To  relieve  the  submarines  of  the  closest 
inshore  work,  British  minelayers  laid  fields  near  the  Cani  Islands;  but 
after  drawing  blood,  these  were  soon  marked  by  the  Axis.  A  decision 
was  then  taken  to  move  the  submarines  north  of  Sicily  and  to  mine 
extensively  the  waters  which  they  were  vacating.  At  this  juncture, 
the  Twelfth's  medium  bombers  took  a  hand.^^ 

For  some  time  Doolittle  had  been  desirous  of  employing  the  mini- 
mum-altitude technique  worked  out  at  Eglin  Field,  Florida,  and  tested 
and  developed  in  the  Aleutians  and  Southwest  Pacific.  In  December, 
while  the  medium  groups  were  training  and  modified  N-6  gunsights 
and  4-second  delay  fuzes  were  becoming  available,  the  P-38's  did  a 
little  antishipping  work  off  northern  Tunisia,  carrying  one  1,000- 
pound  bomb  in  place  of  a  second  belly  tank.  No  success  attended  these 
ventures,  nor  the  first  three  missions  carried  out  by  the  mediums. 

146 


DEFEAT   AND  REORGANIZATION 

The  B-17's,  however,  were  leaving  sunken  hulks  here  and  there  in 
the  harbors. 

Early  in  January,  AFHQ  became  seriously  concerned  over  the 
efficiency  of  the  Axis  ferry  from  Sicily;  and  on  the  6th,  Gannon  re- 
ceived a  radio  directing  the  immediate  organization  of  a  special  striking 
force  for  use  against  shipping.  The  Twelfth'3  antishipping  work,  how- 
ever, did  not  begin  without  some  disputation.  Cannon  objected  to  a 
special  force,  asking  instead  that  the  counters  hipping  function  be 
assigned  to  XII  Bomber  Command.  Doolittle,  who  at  the  time 
thought  the  RAF  and  USAAF  should  be  kept  separate  as  far  as  pos- 
sible, objected  to  the  EAC's  claim  to  operational  control  of  the  force, 
despite  the  likelihood  that  EAC  would  be  responsible  for  the  recon- 
naissance which  would  provide  the  targets— Mosquitos  were  being 
requested  for  reconnaissance.  Both  officers  evidently  gained  their 
points:  all  available  mediums  and  P-38's  took  their  turn  at  shipping 
strikes,  and  the  Twelfth  retained  operational  control.  The  Mosquitos 
failed  to  materialize-.®^ 

The  program  got  under  way  with  a  very  high  priority  around  1 1 
January,  the  310th  Group  (B-25's)  flying  most  of  the  early  sweeps, 
the  319th  (B-26's)  joining  in  on  the  15th.  As  many  as  three  separate 
missions  were  flown  on  a  single  day;  typically  they  comprised  a  half- 
dozen  B-25's  or  B-26's  and  a  squadron  of  P-38's,  at  least  that  number  of 
P-38's  being  needed  for  their  own  protection.  The  P-38's  flew  cover, 
spotting  for  the  bombers  below.  The  bombing  was  done  at  high  speed 
from  less  than  200  feet,  and  the  500-pounders  were  directed  in  trains 
of  three  or  six  at  the  side  of  the  vessel.  Although  convoy  information 
was  occasionally  forthcoming  from  intelligence  or  overnight  recon- 
naissance from  Malta,  most  of  the  sweeps  were  made  "blind."  Recon- 
naissance planes  were  not  safe  over  the  channel  in  daylight,  with  an 
oversufficiency  of  enemy  fighters  on  either  side  directed  by  efficient 
radar  installations.  Consequently,  the  missions  were  often  fruitless.^^ 

Commencing  19  January,  the  mediums  began  to  find  themselves 
after  the  overwater  practice.  First  definite  kill  came  on  the  20th,  when 
six  B-25's  escorted  by  twelve  P-38's  of  the  14th  Group  sighted  a  small 
merchant  vessel  and  a  tanker,  shepherded  by  two  destroyers.  Sustain- 
ing a  direct  hit,  the  tanker  suffered  a  violent  explosion,  stopped,  and 
settled  (it  was  evidently  the  5,000-ton  Saturno,  which  the  Italians  lost 
that  day).  Next  day  the  B-26's  apparently  drew  blood.  Fifteen  miles 
west  of  Pantelleria,  six  of  the  3  i9th's  bombers  attacked  two  medium- 

H7 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 

sized  freighters,  by  their  report  sinking  one  and  damaging  the  other. 
The  P-38  s  had  their  hands  full,  as  almost  always  was  the  case  on  these 
missions,  the  Sicilian  strait  being  one  of  the  world's  busiest  air  lanes. 
They  first  encountered  two  Italian  bombers,  Cant.Z-1007's,  which 
fired  recognition  signals  red-red-red— and  were  shot  down.  Next,  five 
to  seven  Me-109's  joined  from  the  clouds  above.  Two  P-38's  were  lost, 
but  three  of  the  Me's  were  reported  destroyed. 

On  2  2  and  23  January  the  3 19th  repeated  its  success.  On  the  2  2d,  five 
B-26's  attacked  a  small  convoy  in  mid-channel  and  scored  two  hits  on 
a  freighter  before  they  were  engaged  by  the  convoy  escort.  Two  B-26's 
crash-landed  in  the  Bone  area.  Next  day,  four  B-26's  left  a  freighter 
listing  in  a  cove  near  Hergla,  above  Sousse,  and  proceeding  out  to  sea, 
claimed  to  have  exploded  a  second  freighter  and  capsized  a  third. 
A  P-38  and  a  bomber  were  lost.  In  mid-channel  on  the  27th,  the  B-25's 
struck  two  destroyers  whose  decks  were  loaded  with  men.  One  DD 
was  last  seen  flaming  and  listing  heavily;  the  other  likely  sustained  dam- 
age to  its  steering  mechanism. 

The  antishipping  sweeps  went  on  day  after  day  whenever  weather 
permitted,  and  against  them  the  enemy  supply  vessels  began  to  gather 
in  larger  convoys  with  abundant  surface  and  aerial  escort.  On  the  27  th 
four  B-26's,  whose  P-38  escort  had  got  separated  in  the  clouds,  pru- 
dently declined  a  large  transport  which  was  in  company  with  no  less 
than  a  cruiser,  two  destroyers,  and  three  corvettes,  while  overhead  ten 
to  fifteen  Me-109's  and  FW-190's  flew  guard.  On  the  29th,  however, 
six  of  the  3  i9th's  B-26's,  with  a  dozen  of  the  ist  Group's  P-38's  over- 
head, performed  brilliantly  against  a  big  convoy.  Ignoring  six  freight- 
ers, they  chose  two  cargo  liners,  fired  one,  and  blew  the  superstructure 
off  the  other.  Sixteen  enemy  aircraft  offered  battle  but  reportedly  lost 
an  Me-109,  an  Me-iio,  and  an  Me-210  to  the  B-26's.  One  bomber 
crashed  into  the  sea  just  after  the  attack,  whether  shot  down  by  the 
aerial  escort  or  the  accompanying  destroyers  and  corvettes  is  unknown, 
but  its  mates  went  on  to  explode  a  small  vessel  farther  west  (probably 
the  Vercelliy  lost  near  this  position)  and  strafe  a  trawler  north  of 
Bizerte.^^ 

On  10  February,  Admiral  Cunningham  cast  up  the  progress  of  the 
war  against  the  enemy's  supply  line.  Admittedly  the  Twelfth's  me- 
diums had  borne  heavily  upon  the  convoys,  but  had  not  achieved  the 
hoped-for  result  of  forcing  them  to  resume  the  passage  by  night  and 
thus  present  increased  opportunities  for  Force  Q.  Instead  the  enemy 
148 


DEFEAT   AND  REORGANIZATION 

had  heavily  reinforced  his  air  cover.  Moreover,  for  lack  of  P-38's  and 
good  weather,  the  sweeps  had  lately  been  infrequent  and  ineffective, 
no  positive  results  obtaining  from  29  January  to  9  February.  No  less  a 
cause  for  worry  at  AFHQ  was  the  change  wrought  in  the  Axis  ship- 
ping situation  by  Rommers  retreat  to  Tunisia  and  by  the  occupation  of 
Vichy  France.  At  the  end  of  1942,  the  total  shipping  available  to  the 
Axis  in  the  Mediterranean  had  been  two-thirds  reduced  by  sinking  and 
damage.  In  September,  Ciano  had  confided  to  his  gloomy  diary  that  the 
African  problem  would  solve  itself  in  six  months  for  lack  of  ships. 
Tripoli  coast  waters  provided  the  last  resting  place  for  most  of  the 
suitably  sized  tankers  and  the  new  fast  vessels  with  the  big  derricks. 
Old  and  slow  ships  began  to  appear.  With  these  resources,  it  had  not 
been  possible  to  provision  Rommel  to  the  point  where  he  could  make  a 
stand  against  the  Eighth  Army  in  Libya. 

In  February  1943,  the  situation  was  different.  The  Axis  ships  need 
no  more  undertake  the  long  and  murderous  voyage  to  Tripoli  or  Ben- 
gasi. Instead,  they  could  shuttle  across  to  Tunis  and  Bizerte  with  naval 
and  air  escort.  Moreover,  in  the  Marseille  area  the  Germans  had  laid 
hands  not  on  the  French  fleet,  to  be  sure,  but  on  about  450,000  tons  of 
shipping,  including  nearly  a  dozen  tankers.  Although  not  all  this  ship- 
ping was  suitable  and  the  supply  line's  efficiency  suffered  from  the 
aerial  damage  inflicted  on  ship  repair  facilities  in  Italian  ports  and  from 
a  shortage  of  naval  escort,  the  U.S.  naval  attache  at  Cairo  was  impressed 
enough  to  sum  it  up  this  way:  "The  enemy  [is]  now  able  to  undertake 
operations  in  spheres  previously  beyond  his  capabilities."^^ 

Furthermore,  except  for  a  strike  on  10  February,  another  lean  period 
now  ensued  for  the  antishipping  sweeps.  Success  on  the  loth  involved 
Siebel  ferries.  These  craft  were  crude  but  useful  pontoon  rafts  capable, 
as  the  Allied  airmen  were  to  discover,  of  mounting  considerable  fire- 
power, as  much  as  two  or  three  88's  and  various  light  A  A.  However, 
nine  B-25's  pounced  on  four  of  them  thirty  to  forty  miles  north  of  Cap 
Bon  and  probably  destroyed  the  lot:  one  disintegrated  and  sank,  two 
were  left  sinking,  and  one  had  its  deck  awash.  Men,  barrels,  and 
boxes  floated  away.  No  more  ships  were  sunk  until  the  2  ist,  when  the 
Kasserine  battle  was  at  its  height.  According  to  the  group  history,  the 
3  loth's  B-25's  had  been  dispatched  to  head  off  a  tanker,  and  thirty  miles 
south  of  Sicily  they  found  what  looked  suspiciously  like  their  prey. 
The  500-pounders  fired  the  suspected  tanker,  sank  two  small  escorts, 
and  damaged  a  cruiser,  the  intense  flak  landing  one  B-25  in  the  sea.  The 


149 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


tanker,  apparently  the  ex-Norweglan  Thorsheimer,  sank  that  day; 
Malta  Beauforts  may  have  put  a  torpedo  into  it  before  its  dive.  The 
Siebel  ferries  proved  their  mettle  on  the  23  d.  Thirteen  of  them  shot 
down  three  of  six  attackers,  but  five  more  ferry  cargoes  went  to  the 
bottom.  XII  Bomber  Command  had  scored  a  tactical  success  in  its 
minimum-altitude  bombing,  but  it  was  obvious  that  the  enemy's  coun- 
termeasures  were  gaining  in  effectiveness.  New  Allied  tactics  were 
needed  and  in  time  they  emerged.^® 

Despite  the  fact  that  it  shortly  became  the  backbone  of  the  Northwest 
African  Strategic  Air  Force  (NASAF),  XII  Bomber  Command  could 
scarcely  be  said  to  be  performing  strategic  air  operations  as  they  were 
understood  in  the  Eighth,  or  later,  in  the  Fifteenth  and  Twentieth  Air 
Forces.  XII  Bomber  Command's  overriding  target  was  shipping— which 
it  assailed  at  on-  and  off-loading  points  as  well  as  during  passage.  The 
cargo  carried  by  these  ships  could  and  did  reach  the  front  and  affect  the 
battle  within  two  days  of  entering  Tunis  or  Bizerte. 

The  Twelfth's  role  of  cooperation  with  the  land  battle  had  been  con- 
stant from  the  hopeful  days  of  November  when  the  first  American 
bombers  put  their  wheels  down  on  the  newly  occupied  African  fields. 
On  20  January  1943  the  Combined  Chiefs  of  Staff  had  reaffirmed  that 
role  in  a  memorandum.  In  order  of  time  the  objects  of  Africa-based 
bombardment  were  to  be:  the  furtherance  of  operations  for  the  evic- 
tion of  Axis  forces  from  Africa;  the  infliction  of  heaviest  possible  losses 
on  Axis  air  and  naval  forces  in  preparation  for  HUSKY;  the  direct  sup- 
port of  HUSKY;  and  the  destruction  of  the  oil  refineries  at  Ploesti. 
Without  prejudice  to  any  of  the  enumerated  objectives,  targets  were 
to  be  chosen  with  a  view  to  weakening  the  Italian  will  to  war.^^ 

The  furtherance  of  operations  for  the  eviction  of  Axis  forces  from 
Africa  might  and  did  mean  almost  anything,  and  the  B-17's  during 
January  and  February  often  interrupted  their  excursions  to  the  ports 
to  intervene  even  more  directly  in  the  land  battle.  On  11  January, 
five  B-17's  attacked  the  Libyan  fort  at  Gadames  in  a  mission 
probably  coordinated  with  the  operations  of  Brig.  Gen.  Philippe  Le- 
clerc's  Free  French  column  which  had  worked  its  way  up  from  Fort 
Lamy.  The  crews  peering  down  at  the  dust  raised  by  their  bombs  re- 
ported direct  hits  on  the  fort,  but  subsequent  photographs  showed  it 
to  be  undamaged.^^ 

Somewhat  more  successful  were  the  mid-January  strikes  against  the 
Tripoli  dromes,  which  were  carried  out  in  cooperation  with  the  Allied 

150 


DEFEAT   AND  REORGANIZATION 


air  in  the  Middle  East.  On  9  January  the  of  the  3 1 9th  inaugurated 
the  program  for  the  Twelfth  by  blasting  the  hangars  at  a  field  described 
as  ten  miles  south  of  the  doomed  Libyan  capital  (probably  Castel  Be- 
nito) .  On  the  1 2th,  the  97th  visited  Castel  Benito  with  a  mixture  of  frags 
and  HE,  registered  hits  on  and  in  front  of  the  hangars,  and  reported 
bursts  among  the  parked  aircraft,  twenty  of  which  were  claimed  de- 
stroyed. The  defender's  response,  besides  flak,  took  the  form  of  "twenty 
to  thirty"  Mc-202's  which  tried  to  avoid  the  P-38's  and  concentrated  on 
the  bombers  in  a  twenty>minute  fight.  The  B-iy's  claimed  14/3/1,*  one 
battered  plane  limping  into  Biskra  two  hours  late,  on  two  engines.  The 
defending  Italian  unit  admitted  no  losses,  but  claimed  two  "Boeings." 
On  the  17th,  RAF,  ME  apprised  AFHQ  that  the  backtracking  enemy 
had  plowed  his  forward  airdromes  and  concentrated  almost  200  planes 
on  Castel  Benito.  With  Middle  East  bombers  being  turned  on  that 
night,  a  strike  by  the  B-17's  was  suggested  for  the  i8th.  The  97th  sent 
thirteen  B-17's  and  an  exceptionally  ample  escort— thirty- three  P-38's. 
The  bomb  load  was  entirely  HE,  perhaps  because  XII  Bomber  Com- 
mand was  suffering  its  usual  lack  of  frags;  it  fell  on  the  barracks  and 
adjacent  buildings.  Twelve  Mc-202's  attacked,  with  the  result  that  a 
P-38  and  a  B-17  were  lost,  but  the  bombers  claimed  i/i/o,  and  the 
escort,  2/4/4.  Spaatz,  landing  at  Castel  Benito  after  its  capture,  on  his 
way  back  from  Cairo  towards  the  end  of  the  month,  commented  favor- 
ably on  the  havoc  wrought  by  the  combined  air  of  Middle  East  and 
Northwest  Africa.^^ 

In  all  probability  as  effective  as  its  Castel  Benito  strikes  was  the  blast- 
ing that  XII  Bomber  Command's  mediums  and  heavies  administered  to 
El  Aouina  on  22  January.  El  Aouina's  damage  was  devastating.  Ac- 
cording to  First  Army  intelligence,  the  B-17's  hit  an  ammunition  dump 
and  inflicted  600  military  casualties  and,  by  the  most  conservative  esti- 
mate, 12  parked  planes  had  been  destroyed  and  19  holed  in  vari- 
ous degrees.^^ 

As  new  fields  became  available  on  the  Constantine  plateau,  XII 
Bomber's  units  were  gradually  shifted  out  of  Biskra.  The  301st  went 
first— to  Ain  M'lila— where  its  air  echelon  arrived  on  17  January.  The 
97th  stayed  on  three  weeks  longer  before  occupying  Chateaudun-du- 
Rhumel.  The  move  began  on  8  February  and  the  men  at  first  found  the 
cold,  rain,  and  sleet  of  the  plateau  much  less  palatable  than  the  sun  and 

•  This  conventional  form  of  reponing  indicates  fourteen  destroyed,  three  probably 
destroyed,  one  damaged. 

151 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


dust  of  Biskra.  The  ist  Group's  P-38's  followed  their  charges  back 
from  the  desert,  and  after  28  January  the  14th  Group  ceased  operations 
at  Berteaux,  turned  a  dozen  remaining  P-38's  over  to  the  Sid,  and 
settled  down  to  await  the  orders  that  would  send  it  to  the  rear  for  rest 
and  refitting.^^ 

Among  XII  Bomber  Command's  duties  in  January  was  daily  recon- 
naissance over  the  Gabes-Medenine-Ben  Gardane  road,  clogged  with 
retreat.  The  P-38's  swept  the  area,  sometimes  in  force.  For  instance,  on 
21  January  two  squadrons  strafed  until  their  claims  of  vehicles  de- 
stroyed totaled  sixty-five  and  came  back  safely,  despite  one  P-38's  ram- 
ming a  telephone  pole  with  its  wing.  Next  day,  however,  ten  enemy 
fighters  broke  up  another  scourging  of  the  columns  by  jumping  eight 
P-38's  and  destroying  two  of  them.  On  the  23d  a  bitter  running  fight 
took  place  over  the  road.  Sixteen  P-38's  claimed  twenty-five  to  thirty 
vehicles  destroyed,  but  they  lost  two  of  their  number  to  enemy  fighters 
and  four  others  did  not  return— reasons  unknown.  On  the  24th,  perhaps 
in  retahation,  bombers  sought  out  the  active  landing  grounds  around 
Medenine.  Weather  prevented  the  heavies'  attacking,  but  the  B-25's 
and  B-26's  went  in  under  the  overcast  to  account  for  thirteen  planes- 
parked,  taking  off,  and  airborne.^^ 

Although  the  B-17's  might  sometimes  take  on  such  targets  as  the  fort 
at  Gadames  or  the  bridges  over  the  Wadi  Akarit,  unsuccessfully 
bombed  on  the  nth,  their  main  preoccupation  was  still  the  harbors, 
where  they  frequently  could  subtract  from  the  Axis  merchant  marine 
and  Tunisian  port  capacity  at  one  and  the  same  time.  Such  a  fortunate 
coincidence  was  reported  as  having  occurred  on  23  January  at  Bizerte. 
B-17's  of  the  97th  Group  sank  a  large  merchant  vessel  in  the  channel 
near  the  naval  base,  while  those  of  the  301st  dropped  their  missiles  on 
hangars,  workshops,  and  oil  tanks.  All  planes,  including  the  escort,  got 
back  safely,  reporting  a  fat  toll  of  Axis  interceptors. 

So  important  were  the  ports  considered  that  when  Cannon  asked 
permission  on  3 1  January  to  attack  the  Elmas  airdrome  at  Cagliari,  ''as 
a  diversion  both  for  our  own  and  enemy  forces,"  Twelfth  Air  Force 
replied  that  Trapani  and  Palermo  were  more  vital  objectives  if  the 
bomber  commander  wished  to  vary  the  heavily  opposed  Tunis-Bizerte 
milk-runs.  However,  on  6  February  an  Allied  convoy  was  badly 
mauled  between  Oran  and  Algiers  by  Cagliari-based  aircraft.  The  re- 
sult was  the  Twelfth's  first  attack  on  a  European  objective.  Fifty-one 
bombers,  B-17's  and  B-26's,  were  put  over  Elmas  airdrome  on  the  7th  in 

152 


DEFEAT   AND  REORGANIZATION 


the  space  of  three  quarters  of  an  hour.  Results  were  good:  bursts 
covered  the  field  and  hangars,  destroyed  an  estimated  twenty-five  air- 
craft, and  left  large  black-smoke  fires.  Five  Me-109's  were  claimed  to 
have  been  shot  down  and  two  of  the  lAF's  Re-2001's  damaged.  All  of 
the  Twelfth's  aircraft  came  safely  back,  apparently  suffering  little 
worse  than  having  their  radios  jammed  in  the  target  area.  That  evening 
the  Axis  mustered  only  a  weak  assault  on  the  convoy,  and  covering 
Beaufighters  dispersed  the  threat.®* 

Save  for  attacks  on  Sousse  and  on  Kairouan  airdrome,  the  B-17's 
were  inactive  during  the  following  week,  but  15  February  saw  them 
over  Palermo,  kingpin  of  the  supply  route  from  Sicily.  A  large  ship 
was  left  burning  and  the  docks  and  dry  dock  were  holed;  no  significant 
opposition  occurred.  Again,  on  the  1 7th,  XII  Bomber  Command  stnrck 
at  the  Sardinian  airdromes,  briefing  the  B-17's  for  Elmas  and  the 
mediums  for  Villacidro.  The  heavies'  bombing  was  hampered  by 
weather;  they  dropped  long-fuzed,  delayed-action  500-pounders,  as 
well  as  frags.  The  mediums  divided  their  frags  between  Villacidro's 
barracks  and  the  parked  aircraft  at  Decimomannu.  Altogether  one 
FW-190  and  three  Mc-200's  were  reported  shot  down,  and  the  only 
loss  to  bombers  or  escort  occurred  when  two  B-26's  collided  over 
the  target.®* 

Kasserine 

In  mid-February  1943  the  Axis  held  in  Tunisia  the  most  favorable 
position  it  could  expect  for  the  duration  of  the  campaign.  The  Eighth 
Army  was  walled  off  by  the  Mareth  fortifications,  was  hampered  by 
bad  weather,  and  was  under  the  necessity  of  building  up  supplies 
through  Tripoli,  In  the  breathing  spell  before  Montgomery  could 
mount  his  attack,  there  was  scope  for  an  Axis  smash  at  the  ill-equipped 
French  on  the  Eastern  Dorsal  or  the  largely  untried  American  II  Corps, 
which  had  assembled  forward  of  Tebessa  in  January.  In  preparation, 
Rommel  began  to  detach  armor  from  his  Afrika  Korps:  the  2  ist  Panzer 
Division,  partially  re-equipped  at  Sfax,  had  put  in  an  appearance  at 
Faid  Pass  on  30  January;  two  weeks  later  additional  armor  was  moving 
northward  through  the  Gabes  gap.  On  14  February  the  enemy 
launched  an  attack  which,  fully  exploited,  might  have  cut  through  the 
Dorsals,  taken  Le  Kef,  and,  rolling  northward  to  the  Mediterranean, 
isolated  the  Allied  forces  facing  Tunis  and  Bizerte.  At  the  very  least, 
the  move  would  safeguard  the  Axis  flank  during  the  Eighth  Army's  in- 


153 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

evitable  smash  at  the  Mareth  Line.  The  chief  point  of  assault  was  Sidi 
bou  Zid,  a  subsidiary  attack  developing  from  Maknassy. 

The  defense  of  Sidi  bou  Zid  rested  upon  two  hill  positions  facing 
Faid  Pass—which  according  to  II  Corps  report  were  not  mutually  sup- 
porting for  antitank  and  small  arms  fire— and  upon  a  mobile  reserve  in 
Sidi  bou  Zid  itself.  By  nightfall  of  the  14th  the  enemy  had  overrun  two 
battalions  of  American  field  artillery,  inflicted  heavy  losses  on  coun- 
terattacking armor,  and  cut  off  completely  the  infantry  on  Djebel 
Lessouda.  XII ASC  threw  in  strafing  and  bombing  missions,  the  A-20's 
bruising  a  tank  column  in  Faid  Pass  and  participating  in  three  missions 
against  the  southern  horn  of  the  enemy's  advance,  the  most  notable  of 
which  missions  caught  a  convoy  of  perhaps  a  hundred  trucks  at  an  un- 
dispersed  halt  northwest  of  Maknassy.  Moreover,  on  the  way  to  the 
target,  the  escort  broke  up  an  enemy  fighter-bomber  raid. 

During  the  night  of  the  14th,  in  view  of  the  menacing  situation  at 
Sidi  bou  Zid,  the  small  Allied  garrison  at  Gafsa  withdrew  to  Feriana. 
Next  day  the  ist  Armored  Division  sustained  heavy  tank  losses  in  an 
unavailing  effort  to  extricate  the  beleaguered  i68th  Infantry  on  Djebels 
Ksaira  and  Lessouda;  but  some  of  Lessouda's  defenders  managed  to 
escape  during  the  succeeding  night,  the  orders  to  retire  being  dropped 
by  two  P-39's.  Contact  was  finally  lost  with  the  troops  on  Djebel  Ksaira 
and  with  a  battalion  of  tanks  which  had  reached  the  outskirts  of  Sidi 
bou  Zid  during  the  counterattack. 

At  Thelepte  the  day  of  the  15  th  began  with  a  strafing  attack  by  six 
Me-109's  which  necessitated  the  recall  of  the  first  mission.  Twelve 
Spitfires  and  two  P-39's  returned  in  time  to  destroy  three  of  the  raiders; 
but  one  Spit  was  downed,  and  an  A- 20  was  strafed  and  destroyed  on  the 
ground.  Early  in  the  afternoon,  in  a  move  to  reinforce  XII  ASC,  two 
squadrons  of  the  5 2d  Group  arrived  from  XII  Bomber  Command  (the 
other  went  to  Youks) .  All  day  the  Spits  and  P-3  9's  strafed  and  patrolled 
in  the  region  of  Sidi  bou  Zid.  Reconnaissance  on  the  14th  having  shown 
Kairouan  airdrome  well  stocked  with  aircraft,  Kuter  at  AASC  called 
for  bombers;  and  Spaatz  detailed  the  mediums  for  AASC's  needs  on  the 
1 5th.  Thirteen  B-26's  hit  Kairouan  first,  the  frags  catching  two  aircraft 
taking  off.  Nine  B-25's  followed  in  a  half -hour,  finding  three  aircraft 
afire  after  the  previous  attack.  Despite  heavy  flak  which  crippled  a  B-25 
enough  that  the  enemy  pursuit  finished  it  off,  they  laid  their  frags  along 
the  runways  and  in  the  dispersal  areas,  bombers  and  escort  compiling 
claims  of  seven  enemy  fighters.  The  B-25's  belonged  to  the  1 2  th  Group, 

154 


DEFEAT   AND  REORGANIZATION 

which  had  earned  a  commendable  reputation  with  the  Ninth  Air  Force. 
Two  squadrons— the  8ist  and  8 2d— had  flown  from  Gambut  to  Biskra 
on  3  February  and  subsequently  moved  on  to  Berteaux. 

The  1 6th  saw  Combat  Command  A,  harassed  by  dive  bombing,  in  a 
bitter  delaying  action  east  and  southeast  of  Sbeitla.  By  now  it  was  ap- 
parent that  the  whole  area  east  of  the  Western  Dorsal  was  untenable. 

11  Corps'  losses— reported  as  98  medium  tanks,  57  half-tracks, 

12  X  155-mm.  and  17  X  105-mm.  guns— rendered  counterstrokes  im- 
possible. XII  ASC  did  what  it  could  in  the  deteriorating  situation,  its 
fighters  furnishing  cover  and  its  light  bombers  attacking  trucks,  tanks, 
and  gun  positions.  However,  on  the  night  of  the  1 5  th,  Gafsa  had  been 
occupied  by  a  small  enemy  column  and  the  orders  had  gone  out  to 
organize  Kasserine  Pass  for  defense.^^ 

Consequently,  XII  ASC  had  to  evacuate  its  forward  bases;  and  dur- 
ing the  week  of  13-21  February  it  abandoned  a  total  of  five,  simulta- 
neously maintaining  a  respectable  level  of  air  activity.  This  achieve- 
ment reflected  credit  not  only  on  the  individual  Air  Corps  units  but  on 
the  advance  planning  of  XII  ASC  and  of  Allied  Air  Support  Command, 
the  possibility  of  retreat  having  figured  in  headquarters  calculations 
ever  since  the  German  stroke  at  Faid  Pass.  On  10  February,  Evacuation 
Plan  A  for  Sbeitla  and  Thelepte  had  been  disseminated  to  the  inter- 
ested commands. 

The  plan,  which  in  the  event  was  not  followed  to  the  letter,  oper- 
ated somew^hat  as  follows:  as  preliminaries,  Sbeitla,  which  lay  most 
proximate  to  the  front  at  Faid  Pass,  was  not  to  receive  supplies  in  excess 
of  a  four-day  level  for  one  fighter  group  (no  tactical  units  had  yet 
arrived  there);  and  the  Thelepte  fields— the  engineers  had  constructed 
a  second— were  to  have  their  stockage  reduced  to  a  four-day  level  for  all 
resident  units.  Back  at  Canrobert  a  ten-day  stockage  was  to  be  built  up 
for  the  47th's  light  bombers.  Once  the  evacuation  was  ordered,  the 
combat  units  would  leave  for  Youks,  Tebessa,  and  Le  Kouif,  stockage 
at  the  Thelepte  fields  would  be  reduced  to  a  four-day  level  for  one 
fighter  group,  and  3d  Service  Area  Command  would  be  responsible  for 
removing  the  remaining  supplies  out  of  Sbeitla  and  Thelepte.  XII  ASC 
would  assist  to  the  maximum,  determine  priorities  for  movement  of 
supplies  and  personnel,  and  destroy  such  equipment  and  stores  as  were 
likely  to  fall  into  enemy  hands. 

Signal  for  the  execution  of  Plan  A  was  withdrawal  from  Gafsa,  and 
when  the  ground  forces  pulled  out  on  the  14th,  the  plan  was  put  into 

155 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


effect  as  of  2200  hours— but  for  Sbeitla  only.  The  time  for  the  evacua- 
tion of  Thelepte  was  left  to  Williams'  discretion.  In  preparation  for  the 
reception  of  the  68th  Observation  Group,  Sbeitla  had  been  occupied 
by  the  46th  Service  Squadron  (as  the  situation  developed,  Kuter  had 
never  felt  the  base  safe  enough  for  the  68th).  The  service  squadron 
was  very  nearly  captured  that  night,  but  it  not  only  got  safely  away 
but  brought  out  with  it  seventy-five  truckloads  of  supplies,  a  three-day 
level  of  munitions,  and  over  1 00,000  gallons  of  gas  and  oil.®^ 

The  valuable  Thelepte  fields  were  abandoned  on  the  17th  as  the 
Allied  line  was  swung  back  on  the  Western  Dorsal  and  the  Germans 
and  Italians  drove  in  from  Gafsa  and  Sbeitla.  Fredendall  had  told 
Williams  around  nightfall  of  the  i6th  that  his  II  Corps  was  dug  in  on 
high  ground  and  expected  to  hold  the  line  Sbeitla-Feriana.  Neverthe- 
less, at  2400  hours  Williams  was  summoned  again  to  corps  to  learn  that 
the  enemy  had  put  in  a  night  attack  at  Sbeitla  and  that  the  situation  was 
serious.  Holding  forces  at  Kasserine  and  Feriana  would  endeavor  to 
give  XII  ASC  until  ten  the  next  morning  to  clear  out  of  Thelepte. 
Williams,  who  had  taken  the  precaution  to  spot  transportation  around 
Tebessa,  gave  the  evacuation  order  shortly  after  midnight. 

Thelepte  had  been  partially  cleared  on  the  i6th  when  its  two  A-20 
squadrons  had  been  ordered  out.  The  ground  crews  beginning  prepara- 
tions while  the  planes  were  away  on  business,  by  2400  the  squadrons 
were  united  with  the  rest  of  the  group  at  Youks,  This  left  to  evacuate: 
Thelepte's  two  fighter  groups  (the  31st  and  the  81st),  the  Lafayette 
Escadrille,  a  squadron  of  the  350th  (P-39^s),  and  two  squadrons  of  the 
5 2d,  altogether  124  operational  aircraft.  Missions  were  set  up  for  the 
morning  of  the  17th,  the  aircraft  to  return  to  rearward  stations.  In  the 
event,  XII  ASC  was  given  plenty  of  time.  The  last  mission  went  off  at 
1030  hours  and  a  security  detachment  inspected  the  fields  between 
1 100  and  1200.  II  Corps  saw  to  it  that  the  enemy  did  not  arrive  until 
the  afternoon. 

As  planned,  the  31st  Group  went  to  Tebessa,  the  P-39's  to  Le 
Kouif,  the  5 2d  to  Youks.  About  3,000  troops  and  most  of  the  organiza- 
tional equipment  were  got  out  of  Thelepte.  What  could  not  be  moved 
was  destroyed:  60,000  gallons  of  aviation  gas  were  poured  out;  rations 
blown  up;  eighteen  aircraft,  of  which  five  were  nonreparable,  burned. 
Nothing  was  left  for  the  enemy.  Communications  and  supplies  having 
been  spotted  previously  at  the  new  bases,  operations  continued  uninter- 
ruptedly during  the  day.^'^ 

156 


DEFEAT   AND  REORGANIZATION 

By  1 8  February,  II  Corps  had  pulled  back  into  the  Western  Dorsal 
and  was  busily  fortifying  the  passes  in  the  barrier:  Sbiba,  El-Ma-el- 
Abiod,  Dernaia,  and  Kasserine.  Everywhere  on  the  hills  guns  were 
being  emplaced  and  foxholes  dug.  The  remains  of  Combat  Command  A 
moved  from  Sbeitla  into  the  Sbiba  gap  where  it  was  joined  by  elements 
of  the  First  Army  and  the  34th  Division.  To  watch  over  El-Ma-el- 
Abiod,  Combat  Command  B  moved  into  the  region  southeast  of 
Tebessa,  while  Dernaia's  three  approaches  were  organized  for  defense 
by  the  former  Gafsa  garrison.  Most  heavily  fortified  was  Kasserine 
Pass.  In  its  defile  the  roads  forked  west  to  Tebessa  and  north  to  Thala; 
and  except  at  the  fork,  communication  between  the  roads  was  imprac- 
ticable because  the  Oued  Hateb  was  in  flood.  So  not  only  was  the  pass 
itself  manned  for  defense  but  the  26th  Infantry  dug  in  along  the  Thala 
road  and  the  19th  Engineer  Regiment  went  into  position  blocking  the 
Tebessa  route. 

On  the  17  th,  in  the  midst  of  II  Corps'  travail,  Coningham  arrived  at 
1 8th  Army  Group  and  assumed  command  of  AASC,  which  in  the  re- 
organization next  day  became  Northwest  African  Tactical  Air  Force 
(NATAF).  The  air  marshal  made  himself  felt  at  once.  Upon  perusing 
the  operations  summary  for  the  i8th  he  was  moved  to  cable  all  air 
commands  deprecating  the  fact  that  almost  all  flying  done  by  XII ASC 
and  242  Group  had  been  defensive.  Targets  were  in  evidence,  he  said; 
bombers  were  on  call  but  had  not  been  utilized,  nor  had  the  fighters 
been  used  offensively.  He  advised  his  air  commanders  of  what  he  had 
already  told  First  Army  and  the  three  corps  headquarters:  umbrellas 
were  being  abandoned  unless  specifically  authorized  by  NATAF. 
Hereafter  the  maximum  offensive  role  would  be  assigned  to  every 
mission— the  air  marshal  pointed  out  that  an  air  force  on  the  offensive 
automatically  protected  the  ground  forces.  Moreover,  tanks  were  to  be 
let  alone;  enemy  concentrations  and  soft-skinned  vehicles  were  bet- 
ter targets.^® 

XII  ASC*s  activity  during  the  worsening  weather  of  18  February 
had  consisted  of  but  four  missions:  two  reconnaissance  and  strafing  at 
Sbeitla  and  Feriana  and  two  troop  cover  over  Kasserine,  where  the 
enemy  was  probing  the  defenses  of  the  pass.  The  day  of  the  19th 
allowed  no  flying,  offensive  or  defensive,  bringing  a  sirocco  with  its 
accompanying  dust  clouds.  The  20th  proved  little  better.  While  XII 
ASC  sat  weatherbound,  the  Germans  and  ItaUans  put  their  time  to 
good  advantage.  The  defenses  of  Sbiba  resisted  all  attacks,  but  on  the 


157 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 

night  of  the  19th  the  enemy  infiltrated  the  high  ground  overlooking  the 
American  positions  at  Kasserine  Pass.  At  daylight  he  attacked  and 
broke  through. 

Energetic  measures  were  by  now  in  hand  to  meet  the  deepening 
crisis.  The  British  26  Armoured  Brigade  Group  had  come  under  II 
Corps'  control  near  Thala  on  the  19th,  and  additional  reinforcements 
were  on  the  way.  By  the  20th,  Spaatz  had  placed  most  of  his  strategic 
bombers  (XII  Bomber  Command  plus  the  two  Wellington  squadrons) 
at  Coningham's  disposal,  an  arrangement  which  obtained  through- 
out the  critical  phase  of  the  operations  and  was  still  observed  on 
24  February. 

Under  the  force  of  the  enemy  drive,  the  26th  Infantry  retired  up  the 
Thala  road,  compelling  a  sympathetic  withdrawal  by  the  19th  Engi- 
neers on  its  side  of  the  Oued  Hateb.  Combat  Command  B,  moving  to 
the  support  of  the  engineers,  went  into  defensive  positions  eight  miles 
east  of  Djebel  Hamra,  and  the  26  Armoured  Brigade  Group  prepared 
to  dispute  an  advance  on  Thala.  On  the  night  of  the  20th,  Robinett  and 
the  British  commanders  laid  their  defense  plans.  Robinett  would 
attempt  to  restore  the  situation  south  of  the  Oued  Hateb,  while  the  26 
Armoured  Brigade  Group  fought  a  delaying  action  to  enable  a  bat- 
talion of  the  5  Leicesters  to  stretch  defensive  positions  across  the  road 
three  miles  from  Thala.  It  was  on  the  Thala  road  that  the  enemy  was 
preparing  his  main  effort;  and  it  was  imperative  that  he  not  reach  the 
Leicesters  before  dark  on  2 1  February.®* 

The  2 1  St  compassed  a  desperate  struggle.  The  Axis  debouched  from 
Kasserine  Pass,  hit  towards  Tebessa  with  twenty  tanks,  and  towards 
Thala  with  twice  the  number.  Combat  Command  B  contained  all 
thrusts  towards  Tebessa  and  its  huge  dumps,  but  the  26  Armoured 
Brigade  Group  lost  twenty  tanks  in  the  day's  action.  It  maintained, 
however,  the  required  delay;  and  when  at  1945  the  enemy  broke  the 
Leicesters'  position,  he  was  confronted  by  the  artillery  of  the  U.S.  9th 
Division  which  had  spent  four  days  and  nights  in  a  hasty  journey  from 
French  Morocco.  Orders  were  circulated  that  the  line  must  be  held 
at  all  costs. 

Rain  and  fog  prevented  any  really  effective  air  activity  on  the  21st, 
although  ten  B-25's  of  the  12th  Group  achieved  a  raid  on  Gafsa's  rail- 
road yards  and  EAC's  escorted  Hurribombers  struck  at  the  enemy 
spearhead  approaching  Thala.  Four  times  XII  ASC  got  fighters  off  for 
reconnaissance  and  strafing;  three  times  the  weather  forced  them  back, 

158 


DEFEAT   AND  REORGANIZATION 

only  two  P-39's  boring  through  to  strafe  a  tank  and  truck  concentra- 
tion. Another  airfield,  Tebessa,  was  abandoned,  this  time  because  of 
mud,  the  31st  Fighter  Group's  307th  and  309th  Squadrons  going  to 
Youks  (the  5 2d  had  been  sent  back  to  Telergma  and  Chateaudun-du- 
Rhumel  on  the  20th)  and  its  308th  to  Le  Kouif.  As  the  threat  to  Thala 
developed,  Le  Kouif  and  Kalaa  Djerda  were  evacuated  on  the  2 2d,  the 
308th  Squadron  and  the  entire  8  ist  Group  being  forced  into  Youks. 

The  2 2d  was  the  critical  day.  The  Axis  tide  reached  its  flood.  It  beat 
against  Sbiba  where  two  newly  arrived  squadrons  of  Churchill  tanks 
bested  the  Panzers  in  their  first  engagement.  It  pounded  the  defenses 
of  Thala  and  Tebessa— without,  however,  breaching  them.  In  the  eve- 
ning the  enemy  began  a  general  withdrawal,  hastened  by  an  American 
counterattack  which  cleared  him  out  of  Bou  Dries.  All  night  the  Allied 
artillery  harassed  his  movements. 

Thanks  to  partially  clearing  skies,  the  air  forces  were  able  to  con- 
tribute to  the  final  repulse,  with  XII  ASC  bearing  the  brunt.  Youks,  its 
only  remaining  forward  base,  was  in  full  view  of  an  ominous  and  ap- 
parently interminable  procession  of  evacuated  troops  and  materiel 
making  for  the  comparative  safety  of  Ain  Beida  and  Constantine. 
Despite  the  fact  that  men  not  immediately  needed  for  operations  had 
been  sent  to  Canrobert,  Youks  was  an  overcrowded  field,  entertaining 
delegations  of  various  strength  from  the  47th  Bombardment  (L),  the 
31st,  8ist,  and  33d  Fighter  Groups,  the  154th  Observation  Squadron, 
and  the  Lafayette  Escadrille,  besides  service  command  personnel. 
Operations  proceeded  from  one  steel  runway,  on  which  a  constant 
stream  of  transports  and  courier  planes  posed  a  substantial  traffic  con- 
trol problem. 

During  most  of  the  crucial  2 2d,  Youks  was  out  of  communication 
with  headquarters  of  XII  ASC,  which  was  being  prepared  for  evacua- 
tion. However,  operational  policy  had  been  established  by  a  radio  from 
Williams  received  the  night  before:  all  aircraft  possible  were  to  be  put 
over  the  Thala  area,  Lt.  Col.  Fred  Dean,  commander  of  the  3  ist  Fighter 
Group,  who  had  on  AASC*s  instructions  been  given  command  of  all  the 
fighters  at  Youks,  consequently  drew  up  a  schedule  of  continuous  mis- 
sions for  a  dawn-to-dark  assault  on  the  enemy. 

For  an  all-out  aerial  assault,  however,  22  February  left  something  to 
be  desired.  It  began  at  Youks  with  a  low  ceiling  and  intermittent 
showers  which  persisted  until  midmorning.  After  the  first  bombers  got 
off  at  1 135,  XII  ASC  was  able  to  crowd  in  the  creditable  total  of  23 


159 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

missions— 1 14  sorties— but  the  A-20  crews  could  rarely  see  their  bombs 
burst,  and  flew  with  the  uncomfortable  knowledge  that  interspersed 
with  the  low  clouds  were  the  high  hills  flanking  Kasserine  Pass.  The 
only  casualty,  fortunately,  was  one  A-20  which  crash-landed  after  a 
brush  with  three  Me-109's.  Dean's  fighters,  which  were  continually 
taking  off  on  reconnaissance  and  strafing  missions,  knocked  down  a 
Stuka  and  a  Ju-88,  which  just  about  accounted  for  the  local  Luftwaffe's 
activities. 

The  hide-and-seek  weather  also  hamstrung  Strategic  Air  Force.  Out 
of  the  missions  airborne,  three  returned  their  bombs,  and  a  wandering 
formation  of  B-17's,  lost  in  the  clouds,  strayed  100  miles  north  and 
bombed  friendly  Souk-el-Arba.  A  dozen  of  the  12th  Group's  B-25's 
picked  up  Spitfire  escort  over  Youks,  but  no  one  could  say  what 
damage  they  did  to  the  bridge  they  attacked.  Two  squadrons  of  Stra- 
tegic's  P~38's,  however,  joined  Williams'  P-39's  in  strafing  the  Axis 
traffic  in  the  pass.'^^ 

Next  day  all  efforts  were  bent  to  punishing  the  retreat  through  the 
Kasserine  defile.  The  ground  forces  got  close  enough  by  evening  to  put 
their  ijj-mm.'s  to  work  on  the  pass,  and  the  air  forces  concentrated  on 
the  backtracking  columns  on  the  other  side  of  the  Dorsal.  The  weather 
again  was  spotty. 

In  the  days  following  2  3  February,  the  Germans  and  Italians  con- 
tinued to  fall  back—their  armor  urgently  needed  in  the  south  where  the 
Eighth  Army  would  soon  be  preparing  its  attack  on  the  Mareth  system. 
The  Axis  was  still  to  launch  heavy  blows  in  Tunisia.  Von  Arnim 
shortly  mounted  an  opportunist  stroke  in  the  Mateur-Sedjenane  sector 
on  the  theory  that  the  reinforcements  rushed  to  Kasserine  might  have 
weakened  the  northern  front;  and  early  in  March,  Rommel  pushed  a 
spoiling  attack  at  the  Eighth  Army  which  fizzled  out  in  the  face  of  the 
British  artillery.  But  the  Kasserine  push  had  been  the  best  bet  to  disrupt 
the  Allied  timetable.  Its  limited  success  had  not  been  enough. 

In  its  air  phase  the  battle  had  given  hopeful  signs  of  a  new  coopera- 
tion. No  longer  did  each  packet  of  air  fight  on  its  own  with  its  horizons 
limited  to  those  of  an  army  or  corps  commander.  Eastern  Air  Com- 
mand's Hurribombers  and  Bisleys  had  put  in  an  appearance  over  Thala 
and  Kasserine,  and  the  weight  of  Strategic  had  been  thrown  into  the 
scale.  The  Eighth  Army  and  the  Western  Desert  Air  Force  had  re- 
sponded by  simulating  preparations  for  an  attack  on  the  Mareth  Line. 
The  RAF  205  Group  operated  against  Gabes  town  and  airfield,  light 
160 


DEFEAT   AND  REORGANIZATION 


bombers  attacked  in  the  Mareth  region,  and  fighters  and  fighter- 
bombers  moved  forward  into  the  Medenine  area  to  torment  the  enemy 
air  at  Bordj  Toual,  Gabes,  and  Tebaga.  It  was  an  auspicious  beginning 
for  the  new  air  force  organization, ''^ 

Northwest  African  Air  Forces 

February  1943  witnessed  the  marrying  of  the  Middle  East  and 
Northwest  African  theaters  of  war.  General  procedures  for  the  union 
had  been  laid  down  at  Casablanca  the  month  before  in  preparation  for 
HUSKY,  and  the  high  headquarters  had  since  been  settling  the  details. 
After  the  conference  breakup,  Spaatz  had  accompanied  Tedder  to 
Cairo  for  discussions  on  organization  and  on  the  necessary  coordination 
with  the  Middle  East.  On  30  January  the  pair  left  Cairo,  visited  IX 
Bomber  Command,  picked  up  Coningham,  and  arrived  at  Algiers  next 
day.  On  i  February  a  B-17  bore  the  air  marshals  away  to  England  for  a 
fortnight.  By  the  8th,  Spaatz  was  writing  Arnold  that  the  detailed 
studies  had  been  accomplished  and  the  orders  prepared— since  3  Febru- 
ary a  committee  headed  by  Craig  had  been  at  work  on  the  reorganiza- 
tion in  Algiers.  Issuing  the  orders  awaited  only  Tedder's  return."^^ 

On  the  2oth,  Eisenhower  announced  sweeping  command  changes  in 
his  ground  and  sea  arms.  General  Alexander  became  deputy  com- 
mander in  chief  of  Allied  Force  and  head  of  i8th  Army  Group,  com- 
prising the  British  First  and  Eighth  Armies  and  the  XIX  French  and  II 
American  Corps.  Fleet  Adm.  Sir  Andrew  Cunningham  succeeded 
Adm,  Sir  Henry  Harwood  as  Commander  in  Chief,  Mediterranean. 
Malta  passed  out  of  the  Middle  East  Command,  although  it  could  not 
yet  be  supplied  through  the  Sicilian  narrows."^^ 

The  parallel  integration  of  the  air  forces  was  intrusted  to  Tedder's 
Mediterranean  Air  Command,  constituted  and  activated  by  AFHQ  on 
17  February,  pursuant  to  the  CCS  directive  of  20  January.  MAC  head- 
quarters was  a  small  policy  and  planning  staff— "a  brain  trust  without  ex- 
ecutive authority  or  domestic  responsibilities"^*— which  commenced 
its  work  on  18  February  in  the  building  occupied  by  AFHQ.  From  the 
Middle  East  came  Air  Vice  Marshals  H.  E.  P.  Wigglesworth  as  deputy 
to  Tedder  and  G,  G.  Dawson  as  director  of  maintenance  and  supply, 
while  the  Ninth  Air  Force  contributed  General  Timberlake  as  director 
of  operations  and  plans.  Craig  became  MAC's  chief  of  staff. 

For  operations  in  Northwest  Africa,  MAC  was  subordinate  to 
AFHQ.  It  was  responsible  for  cooperation  with  the  Tunisian  armies; 

161 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

for  training  and  replacement  of  RAF  and  USAAF  personnel;  for  sup- 
ply and  maintenance  of  the  combined  air  forces;  and  for  the  protection 
of  Allied  shipping,  ports,  and  base  areas.  Its  counter-air  force  activities 
aimed  not  only  to  forward  the  Tunisian  battle  but  to  strip  the  aerial  re- 
sources of  Sicily  and  force  the  GAF  to  divert  strength  from  the  sum- 
mer campaign  in  the  U.S.S.R.  By  disrupting  land,  sea,  and  air  commu- 
nications, its  strategic  bombers  would  isolate  the  Tunisian  bridgehead 
and  interrupt  the  build-up  of  Sicilian  defenses.  The  means  at  Tedder's 
disposal  included  the  U.S.  Ninth  and  Twelfth  Air  Forces;  the  RAF 
Eastern  Air  Command;  RAF,  Middle  East;  and  RAF,  Malta.  He  was 
also  invested  with  operational  control  of  RAF,  Gibraltar.'^® 

The  administrative  functions  of  MAC  were  performed  by  its  three 
subordinate  commands:  Northwest  African  Air  Forces  (Spaatz); 
Middle  East  Air  Command  (Air  Chief  Marshal  Sir  Sholto  Douglas) ;  and 
RAF  Malta  Air  Command  (Air  Vice  Marshal  Sir  Keith  Park) .  Except 
for  Malta's  passing  under  direct  command  of  MAC,  no  significant 
change  of  function  or  organization  occurred  in  the  Malta  or  Middle 
East  commands.  To  NAAF  were  sublet  as  many  of  the  functions  of 
MAC  as  could  be  performed  from  the  NAAF  base  area  and  with  the 
NAAF  resources:  neutralization  of  enemy  air  forces;  cooperation  with 
the  Tunisian  land  battle;  interruption  of  enemy  communications  by 
land,  sea,  or  air.  In  addition,  Allied  shipping,  ports,  and  back  areas  were 
to  be  protected,  a  central  organization  for  supply  of  RAF  and  USAAF 
units  set  up,  and  provision  made  for  training  and  replacement.  Initially, 
NAAF,  activated  on  i8  February,  combined  Eastern  Air  Command 
and  the  Twelfth  Air  Force  (the  Allied  Air  Force  was  abolished).  On 
2 1  February,  Spaatz  received  control  of  the  Western  Desert  Air  Force. 

The  subcommands  established  under  Spaatz  were  something  new  in 
air  force  organization.  In  the  first  instance  they  greatly  extended  the 
practice  of  combined  headquarters  inaugurated  by  Eisenhower's 
AFHQ  in  1942.  RAF  and  USAAF  personnel  were  intermingled  even 
below  the  command  level,  affording  greater  scope  for  mutual  under- 
standing and  the  pooling  of  ideas  and  techniques.  As  weighty  in  impor- 
tance were  the  functional  principles  involved.  The  indecisive  winter  of 
1942-43  had  demonstrated  that  the  standard  U.S.  fighter  command 
could  not  easily  be  adapted  to  the  manifold  roles  required  of  fighters  in 
the  African  theater:  port  and  shipping  defense,  bomber  escort,  and  co- 
operation with  ground  forces.  No  more  could  bombers  be  segregated 
under  a  bomber  command  when  they  performed  such  diverse  duties  as 
162 


DEFEAT    AND   R EO R G AN I Z AT  I O  K 

antisubmarine  sorties,  strategic  bombardment,  and  strikes  on  enemy 
artillery  positions. 

Air  Marshal  Coningham  took  over  the  Northwest  African  Tactical 
Air  Force,  charged  with  cooperation  with  the  Allied  ground  forces 
converging  on  the  Tunisian  bridgehead.  Under  him  with  the  light 
bombers  and  fighters  needed  for  the  task  were  242  Group  (Air  Cdre. 
K.  B.  B.  Cross)  for  work  with  the  First  Army;  Williams'  XII  ASC  for 
work  with  II  Corps;  and  Western  Desert  Air  Force  (Air  Vice  Marshal 
Harry  Broadhurst)  for  work  with  the  Eighth  Army.  Coningham  estab- 
lished his  headquarters  in  the  Souk-el-Khemis  area  near  i8th  Army 
Group  Advance  and  Anderson's  First  Army  headquarters. 

Doolittle  was  appointed  to  the  Northwest  African  Strategic  Air 
Force,  composed  of  XII  Bomber  Command  and  two  British  Welling- 
ton squadrons  and  based  with  its  own  escort  fighters  generally  on  a 
group  of  airdromes  around  Constantine,  where  NASAF  headquarters 
was  set  up.  The  Northwest  African  Coastal  Air  Force  was  directed 
from  Algiers,  where  Group  Capt.  G.  G.  Barrett  (shortly  to  be  suc- 
ceeded by  Air  Vice  Marshal  Hugh  P.  Lloyd)  shared  an  operations 
room  with  Admiral  Cunningham.  NACAF  was  made  responsible  for 
the  air  defense  of  North  Africa,  for  air-sea  reconnaissance,  for  anti- 
submarine operations,  and  for  protection  ojf  friendly  and  destruction 
of  enemy  shipping.  It  comprised  323,  325,  and  328  Wings,  RAF;  the 
Headquarters  and  Headquarters  Squadron,  XII  Fighter  Command;  ist 
and  2d  Air  Defense  Wings;  and  the  U.S.  3 50th  Fighter  Group  (P-39's). 

The  Northwest  African  Training  Command  fell  to  Cannon,  who, 
since  RAF  training  was  mostly  carried  on  in  the  Middle  East,  con- 
cerned himself  in  the  main  with  American  units.  He  was  given  a  large 
number  of  airfields  in  Morocco  aiid  western  Algeria.  The  XII  Air 
Force  Service  Command  and  the  maintenance  organization  of  Eastern 
Air  Command  were  combined  as  Northwest  African  Air  Service  Com- 
mand under  General  Dunton,  which  event  did  not  immediately  affect 
their  operations.  Last  of  the  combined  organizations  set  up  on  18 
February  was  Lt.  Col.  Elliott  Roosevelt's  Northwest  African 
Photographic  Reconnaissance  Wing  which  comprised  the  U.S.  3d 
Photographic  Group  and  No.  682  Photographic  Reconnaissance 
Squadron,  RAF. 

For  his  staff,  Spaatz  drew  from  the  former  headquarters  of  Allied 
Air  Force,  Twelfth  Air  Force,  and  Eastern  Air  Command.  Robb  car- 
ried over  from  Allied  Air  Force  as  deputy  and  chief  of  the  RAF 

163 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 


element.  For  the  rest,  British  and  American  officers  were  "interleaved." 
Establishing  an  administrative  echelon  at  Algiers,  Spaatz  set  up  an  oper- 
ational headquarters  at  Constantine,  where  he  could  be  in  close  touch 
with  Doolittle. 

The  functional  principles  of  NAAF,  especially  the  provision  of 
separate  yet  cooperating  commands  for  the  tasks  of  strategic  bombard- 
ment and  air-ground  cooperation,  were  developed  and  widely  applied 
by  the  Americans  in  the  major  theaters  of  war.  Whole  U.S.  air  forces 
became  "strategic/'  e.g.,  the  Eighth,  Fifteenth,  and  Twentieth—while 
the  Ninth  and  Twelfth  evolved  into  strictly  tactical  air  forces  con- 
cerned with  cooperation  with  the  ground  forces.  What  was  at  least  as 
important,  NAAF  incorporated  the  principles  of  air  warfare  which 
had  been  learned  in  the  Middle  East  and  demonstrated  more  recently 
by  hard  experience  in  Tunisia.  Its  Tactical  Air  Force  was  a  recognition 
(as  the  Allied  Air  Support  Command  had  been  before  it)  that  the  air 
forces  cooperating  with  the  ground  battle  had  to  be  fought  under  a 
single  air  commander,  since  the  planes,  unlike  the  ground  components, 
moved  freely  over  the  battleground  and  could  be  employed  in  any 
part  of  it."^* 

The  outstanding  exponents  of  Middle  East  doctrine  now  held  key 
positions  in  the  new  setup:  Tedder  as  head  of  MAC  and  Coningham 
at  NATAF,  On  1 6  February,  in  a  talk  at  army  exercises  at  Tripoli,  the 
latter  addressed  himself  to  the  general  subject  of  air-ground  coopera- 
tion. Preceding  him,  Montgomery  had  spoken  on  the  same  theme,  but 
Coningham  wished  to  amplify  because,  as  he  said,  he  attached  great  im- 
portance to  proper  doctrine.  He  stated  the  desert-evolved  doctrine  as 
follows: 

The  Soldier  commands  the  land  forces,  the  Airman  commands  the  air  forces; 
both  commands  work  together  and  operate  their  respective  forces  in  accordance 
with  a  combined  Army-Air  plan,  the  whole  operadons  being  directed  by  the 

Army  Commander. 

Coningham  then  discussed  the  fruitful  applications  of  this  doctrine 
during  the  long  punishment  of  Rommel  after  El  Alamein.  In  sad  con- 
trast, he  said,  was  the  state  of  the  "home-doctrine"  in  England,  where 
army-air  feeling  was  characterized  by  a  *'mutual  petulance"  arising 
from  an  inactive  home  army  calling  constantly  for  training  aircraft 
which  the  RAF,  in  continuous  combat,  did  not  feel  it  could  spare. 
Mutual  petulance,  said  Coningham,  had  accompanied  the  forces  to 
French  Africa— its  net  result  the  misuse  of  the  air  in  the  early  Tunisian 

164 


DEFEAT   AND  REORGANIZATION 

Operations.  In  the  planning  for  TORCH  the  lessons  of  the  Western 
Desert  had  been  ignored/"^ 

If  such  had  been  the  case,  there  was  at  hand  in  Tunisia  an  oppor- 
tunity to  remedy  it.  In  the  large,  the  North  African  winter  campaign 
had  merely  provided  seasoning  for  all  participating  arms,  British  as  well 
as  American.  A  reorganization  had  been  committed  on  paper;  there 
would  be  work  enough  for  all  to  make  it  fact. 


165 


CHAPTER  6 


CLIMAX  IN  TUNISIA 

THE  Kasserine  push  represented  the  zenith  of  Axis  fortunes  in 
Tunisia,  and  its  impact  weakened  the  AlUed  Hues  along  the 
whole  western  face  of  the  enemy  bridgehead.  II  Corps  was 
shaken;  the  British  5  Corps  in  the  northern  sector  had  been  obliged  to 
send  formations  to  the  defense  of  Thala  and  Tebessa;  in  the  center,  the 
Fre^nch  had  not  fully  recovered  from  their  January  misadventures. 
General  Alexander  had  recognized  this  situation  in  his  first  instruction 
to  the  1 8th  Army  Group.  The  Allies  on  the  western  Tunisian  front 
were  still  on  the  defensive;  the  immediate  task  was  to  wrest  back  the 
initiative.  Alexander  considered  it  most  important  to  this  purpose  that 
the  French,  British,  iand  American  elements  be  disentangled  arid  a  be- 
ginning be  made  to  form  a  general  reserve.^ 

The  Axis  command  moved  immediately  to  exploit  its  expiring  initia- 
tive. No  sooner  had  its  forces  disengaged  east  of  Kasserine  than  an 
attack  developed  in  the  British  sector.  Probably  designed  to  take  advan- 
tage of  the  temporary  Allied  weakness  and  cover  the  transfer  of  the 
2 1  St  and  half  the  loth  Panzer  Divisions  to  the  Mareth  Line,  the  blow 
met  a  check  before  Bou  Arada  but  broke  into  the  British  positions  be- 
fore Beja  and  eventually  took  Sedjenane  and  Tamera  in  the  north,  the 
latter  successes  denying  the  British  5  Corps  the  use  of  important  roads 
in  a  generally  roadless  country.  Containing  this  push  and  mounting  a 
counterstroke  to  improve  its  positions  in  the  Sedjenane  sector  involved 
5  Corps  in  bitter  fighting  throughout  a  good  part  of  March.  The  RAF 
242  Group  put  forth  maximum  effort  during  these  operations,  being 
particularly  effective  on  28  February  against  tanks  and  motor  vehicles 
around  Sidi  Nsir  and  Beja.^ 

Nevertheless,  generally  speaking,  among  the  Allied  forces  north  of 
the  Mareth  Line,  late  February  and  early  March  was  a  time  of  prepara- 
166 


CLIMAX    IN  TUNISIA 


tion—for  the  grand  offensive  which,  it  was  hoped,  would  finally  expel 
the  Axis  from  the  southern  Mediterranean  littoral.  New  formations 
were  brought  up,  training  was  intensified,  and  operations  proceeded 
throughout  with  an  eye  to  conserving  strength  for  the  denouement. 
With  HUSKY  scheduled  to  descend  on  Sicily  during  the  July  moon, 
the  Allied  commanders  were  acutely  conscious  of  the  calendar.^  Besides 
looking  to  training  and  reinforcement  and  overseeing  the  unremitting 
air  operations,  Spaatz'  Northwest  African  Air  Forces  was  still  laboring 
with  the  implications  of  the  i8  February  reorganization. 

One  of  the  admittedly  minor  problems  of  the  reorganization  con- 
cerned the  status  of  the  Twelfth  Air  Force.  Its  units,  personnel,  and 
equipment  having  been  transferred  entirely  to  NAAF  on  i8  Feb- 
ruary,^ both  on  paper  and  in  actuality  the  Twelfth  seemed  to  have 
vanished.  At  his  last  staff  meeting,  on  2  2  February,  Doolittle  expressed 
the  opinion  that  once  such  matters  as  courts-martial  had  been  wound 
up,  the  ^'skeleton"  of  the  Twelfth— "the  name  only"— would  have 
either  to  be  returned  to  the  States  for  a  reincarnation  or  be  decently 
interred  by  War  Department  order.  Spaatz  put  the  question  to  Eisen- 
hower and,  receiving  answer  that  Headquarters,  Twelfth  Air  Force, 
would  be  continued  as  the  administrative  headquarters  for  the  U.S. 
Army  elements  of  NAAF,  he  took  command  of  the  Twelfth  on 
I  March.  As  commander,  however,  he  had  no  staff  as  such,  it  being 
assumed  that  AAF  officers  named  to  the  NAAF  staff  had  been  auto- 
matically placed  in  equivalent  positions  in  the  Twelfth.  Actually,  all 
administrative  functions  were  carried  on  by  NAAF  and  the  half- 
existence  of  the  Twelfth  served  mainly  to  mystify  all  but  a  few  head- 
quarters experts.^  The  duties,  units,  and  bases  of  Dunton's  Northwest 
African  Air  Service  Command  were  not  set  forth  until  14  March,®  the 
delay  probably  reflecting  the  Kasserine  crisis.  Four  days  later,  as  part 
of  the  preparation  for  HUSKY,  NAASG  lost  its  troop  carrier  units 
when  the  Northwest  African  Air  Forces  Troop  Carrier  Command 
(Prov.)  was  activated  with  Col.  Ray  Dunn  as  acting  commander.'' 
Dunn  took  over  the  51st  Troop  Carrier  Wing— 60th,  62 d,  and  64th 
Troop  Carrier  Groups.  A  second  troop  carrier  wing  was  already  ear- 
marked for  the  airborne  invasion  of  Sicily,  and  in  April,  Dunn  ordered 
all  but  one  of  his  groups  on  training  status.® 

At  NATAF  headquarters  in  Constantine,  Coningham  was  working 
to  improve  the  theory  and  practice  of  air-ground  cooperation.  He  real- 
ized that  not  only  must  he  achieve  unified  control  of  operations  but 

167 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD  WAR  II 


must  see  to  it  that  242  Group  and  XII  ASC  were  brought  up  to  the 
approximate  standards  of  the  Western  Desert  Air  Force,  to  which  in 
point  of  experience  and  equipment  they  were  markedly,  if  under- 
standably, inferior.  Before  he  and  Alexander  moved  from  Constantine 
to  the  neighborhood  of  Ain  Beida  (headquarters  was  in  trailers  orig- 
inally commandeered  in  Egypt  from  visiting  English  tourists),  an  oper- 
ational directive  had  been  issued  as  a  guide  to  the  theory  of  NATAF's 
subordinate  formations.*  The  doctrine  was  the  familiar  one  from 
the  Western  Desert: 

The  attainment  of  this  object  [maximum  air  support  for  land  operations]  can 
only  be  achieved  by  fighting  for  and  obtaining  a  high  measure  of  air  supremacy 
in  the  theatre  of  operations.  As  a  result  of  success  in  this  air  fighting  our  land 
forces  will  be  enabled  to  operate  virtually  unhindered  by  enemy  air  attack  and 
our  Air  Forces  be  given  increased  freedom  to  assist  in  the  actual  battle  area  and 
in  attacks  against  objectives  in  rear. . . .  The  courses  of  action  I  propose  to  adopt 
to  achieve  the  object  are: 

( 1 )  A  continual  offensive  against  the  enemy  in  the  air. 

(2)  Sustained  attacks  on  enemy  main  airfields. . . . 

The  enemy  must  be  attacked  wherever  he  can  be  found,  and  destroyed. . . .  The 
inculcation  of  the  offensive  spirit  is  of  paramount  importances^ 

The  comparative  lull  in  air  operations  in  early  March  was  utilized  by 
Coningham  to  reorganize  his  forces,  XII  ASC  was  near  exhaustion  from 
the  cumulative  effects  of  understrength  units,  mobile  operations,  and 
poor  airdromes.  The  more  urgent  problems  faced  by  NATAF  con- 
sisted of  the  following:  reorganization  of  the  available  tactical  bombers; 
improvement  of  tactical  reconnaissance  and  photography;  develop- 
ment of  the  offensive  use  of  RDF;  and,  finally,  amelioration  of  the 
landing-ground  situation.^^ 

In  mid-February  the  bombers  available  for  army  cooperation  on  the 
western  face  of  the  bridgehead  were  divided  between  242  Group  and 
XII  ASC:  Bisley  squadrons  of  No.  326  Wing  at  Canrobert  and  XII 
ASC's  battered  47th  Group  (A-20's),  which  had  been  recently  rein- 
forced from  the  Western  Desert  by  two  B-25  squadrons  of  the  U.S. 
1 2  th  Group,  at  Youks.  Plans  were  immediately  developed  to  combine 
these  resources  under  one  headquarters  so  that  training  for  their  special- 
ized function  could  be  undertaken  and  their  total  effort  be  made  avail- 
able for  operations  anywhere  on  the  front.  By  1 7  March  the  Bisley  wing, 
of  which  one  squadron  was  being  rearmed  with  RAF  Bostons,  had 
moved  to  near-by  Oulmene;  the  47th  was  at  Canrobert;  the  12th,  for 
which  an  RAF  servicing  commando  was  being  transferred  from  Bone, 
was  also  at  Canrobert,  pending  the  completion  of  a  field  at  Tarf .  On  20 
168 


CLIMAX   IN  TUNISIA 


March,  Spaatz'  order  activated  the  Northwest  African  Tactical  Bomber 
Force,  commanded,  under  Coningham's  over-all  direction,  by  Group 
Capt.  L.  F.  Sinclair,  Sinclair  also  exercised  operational  control  of  No.  8 
Groupement  of  the  French  air  force— LEO-45's  specializing  in  night 
bombing  from  Biskra.^^ 

One  of  the  main  weaknesses  of  tactical  reconnaissance  in  the  First 
Army-II  Corps  area  consisted  in  the  use  of  the  available  squadrons  for 
offensive  purposes— bombing  and  strafing.  Consequently,  NATAF  had 
only  to  put  an  end  to  this  to  effect  substantial  improvement.  The  RAF 
No.  225  Squadron  (Hurribombers),  working  with  Anderson,  was  re- 
equipped  with  Spitfires.  With  II  Corps,  some  improvement  in  tactical 
reconnaissance  was  accomplished  by  more  careful  selection  of  the 
personnel  in  the  air  support  parties  and  of  the  ground  officers  used  to 
brief  the  pilots.  Battle-area  photography  had  been  poor,  primarily  be- 
cause the  Northwest  African  Photographic  Reconnaissance  Wing  was 
based  300  miles  back,  at  Algiers.  Until  NAPRW  could  get  a  detach- 
ment forward,  therefore,  reliance  had  to  be  placed  on  No.  285  Wing, 
serving  the  Eighth  Army,  and  on  the  tactical  reconnaissance  squadrons. 
Late  in  the  campaign  the  U.S.  154th  Observation  Squadron  received 
P-5 1 's  equipped  to  take  vertical  and  oblique  photographs  and  it  relieved 
NAPRW  of  battle-area  photography  for  II  Corps.^^ 

The  original  USAAF  units  in  the  Tebessa-Kasserine  area  had  no 
radar  at  all,  and  even  at  the  end  of  February  no  more  than  a  few  LW's* 
were  in  evidence,  serving  as  air  raid  warning  for  the  airfields.  No.  242 
Group  was  a  little  better  off,  but  its  system  could  not  be  used  offen- 
sively. With  the  arrival  of  the  U.S.  3d  Air  Defense  Wing  and  the  pro- 
vision of  additional  British  equipment  for  both  242  Group  and  XII 
ASC,  NATAF  finally  achieved  an  excellent  offensive  layout  overlook- 
ing the  Axis  airdromes  in  the  coastal  plain.  As  the  Axis  bridgehead  con- 
tracted and  was  finally  wiped  out,  the  RDF  installations  moved  for- 
ward until  they  were  in  place  as  part  of  a  permanent  coastal  de- 
fense system.^* 

In  February,  242  Group  still  struggled  along  with  its  fields  in  the 
Souk-el- Arba-Souk-el-Khemis  region,  badly  placed  among  high  hills 
for  the  cloudy  winter  but  expected  to  be  highly  serviceable  come 
spring.  XII  ASC's  immediate  difficulties  were  solved  when  II  Corps 
secured  the  two  Thelepte  fields;  the  fighters  moved  back  on  1 2  March 
after  an  unusually  large  number  of  mines  had  been  extracted.  The 

•  Light  warning  sets. 

169 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 

Eighth  Army's  occupation  of  suitable  territory  around  the  Mareth 
Line's  outposts  alleviated  WDAF's  airfield  problem,  but  NATAF  was 
contemplating  new  construction  in  the  northern  and  central  sectors  in 
preparation  for  an  Allied  advance.^^  New  airfields  for  NATAF,  how- 
ever, could  come  only  as  part  of  a  unified  plan  for  airfield  development, 
AFHQ  having  embraced  the  proposition  that  airfield  construction 
could  no  longer  proceed  in  response  to  immediate  tactical  requirements. 
This  attitude  reflected  better  appreciation  of  the  role  of  air  power; 
also,  new  fields  had  to  be  sited  with  an  eye  to  the  needs  of  the  Sicilian 
campaign. 

The  most  important  meeting  on  airdrome  construction  during  the 
African  campaign  took  place  at  NATAF  headquarters  on  3  March. 
With  Kuter  and  Coningham  were  the  chief  engineers  for  AFHQ,  i8th 
Army  Group,  First  Army,  and  NAAF.  Two  days  later  a  directive  was 
issued  which  gave  NATAF  thirteen  forward  fields,  to  be  completed  by 
1 3  March,  and  NASAF  fifteen  fields  in  the  region  south  and  east  of 
Constantine.  The  rear  areas  were  given  second  and  third  priorities. 
NAAF,  which  interpreted  AFHQ's  policy  of  unified  control  as  giving 
it  the  power  to  set  airfield  priorities,  was  subsequently  resisted  by  the 
First  Army,  which  commanded  the  British  airdrome  construction 
troops  (the  RAF  had  no  aviation  engineers) ;  but  on  24  April,  AFHQ 
decided  in  favor  of  NAAF.  Six  months  of  confusion  had  ended  with 
the  realization  that  unity  of  command  for  airfield  construction  was  as 
important  as  unity  of  command  for  aerial  operations,  indeed  was  the 
logical  corollary  thereof.^* 

The  preparations  on  the  western  side  of  the  Tunisian  bridgehead  had 
their  counterpart  in  Tripolitania  and  the  Mareth  region  as  the  Eighth 
Army,  the  Western  Desert  Air  Force,  and  the  Ninth  Air  Force  girded 
themselves  for  an  entry  into  Tunisia  proper.  After  the  capture  of 
Tripoli  on  23  January,  Montgomery  advanced  west  with  only  one 
division,  his  administrative  position  still  precarious  until  the  port  could 
be  got  working.  No  great  difficulty  was  encountered  until  the  enemy 
stiffened  on  the  approaches  to  Zuara,  a  small  coastal  town  just  south  of 
the  Tunisian  border;  for  a  day  or  two  the  RAF  found  targets  among 
light  vessels  at  its  docks.  Not  until  30  January  did  Zuara  succumb  and 
the  Eighth  Army  then  faced  up  to  Ben  Gardane,  the  first  outpost  of  the 
Mareth  fortifications.  At  this  point  a  rainy  spell  intervened  and  Ben 
Gardane  was  not  entered  until  15  February.  With  Leclerc's  Free 
French  column,  now  under  Eighth  Army  command,  working  towards 
170 


CLIMAX   IN  TUNISIA 


Ksar  Rhilane  from  Nalut,  Montgomery  nt^kt  reduced  Medenine  with 
its  important  landing  grounds  and  Foum  Tatahouine.^^ 

Since  6  February,  Brereton  had  been  commanding  USAFIME  as 
well  as  the  Ninth  Air  Force,  Andrews  having  succeeded  Eisenhower 
in  ETOUSA.  Otherwise,  the  reorganization  resulted  in  a  fairly  com- 
plicated command  setup.  To  Air  Marshal  Douglas'  RAF,  ME  head- 
quarters had  fallen  command  of  all  Allied  air  forces  east  of  the  Tunisian- 
Libyan  border,  with  the  exception  of  WDAF  which  was  under  NAAF 
for  operations  and  Middle  East  for  administration.  Consequently,  that 
part  of  the  Ninth  Air  Force  operating  with  WDAF  passed  under 
NATAF's  operational  control.  To  solemnize  this  arrangement  Strick- 
land's Desert  Air  Task  Force  Headquarters  was  succeeded  by  the 
*'Desert  Air  Task  Force,  Ninth  U.S.  Air  Force''  with  appropriate 
command  channels;  Strickland  continued  as  commander.  Other 
changes  took  place:  Timberlake  was  called  to  Mediterranean  Air  Com- 
mand and  Colonel  Rush  succeeded  him  at  IX  Bomber  Command  on 
15  February;  when  General  Kauch  also  went  to  MAC  in  March,  Col. 
John  D.  Corkille  took  his  place  as  service  command  head  on  the  zid.^* 

In  mid-February,  the  Ninth  Air  Force  had  only  the  57th  Fighter 
Group  in  the  forward  area,  although  two  more  P-40  groups— the  79th 
and  324th— were  soon  to  become  operational.  The  57th  occupied 
Zuara  landing  ground  on  23  February,  not  having  flown  any  missions 
since  the  26th  of  the  previous  month.  It  immediately  began  fighter- 
bomber  operations  against  the  enemy  air  at  the  landing  grounds  around 
Mareth  and  Gabes,  these  operations  being  part  of  the  campaign  to 
draw  hostile  attention  from  the  Kasserine  area.  On  i  March  its  advance 
party  moved  to  one  of  the  newly  prepared  Hazbub  landing  grounds 
south  of  Medenine  and  the  group  was  made  ready  to  follow.  But 
early  the  next  evening  a  large  flight  of  Spitfires— the  entire  RAF  244 
Wing— appeared  over  Zuara  and  were  landed  by  the  headlights  of 
hastily  rounded-up  trucks.  The  wing  had  been  occupying  the  Hazbub 
fields  to  which  the  57th  was  scheduled  to  move,  but  the  Germans  had 
let  go  with  guns  concealed  in  the  near-by  mountains  and  sent  out 
armored  cars;  this  explained  the  hasty  exit.  The  German  gunners  with 
their  excellent  observation  from  the  Matmata  hills  were  able  occasion- 
ally to  indulge  in  the  sport  of  flushing  the  RAF  from  landing  grounds 
in  the  plain.  The  57  th  consequently  stayed  at  Zuara  until  the  9th,  when 
it  advanced  to  a  landing  ground  southwest  of  Ben  Gardane.^® 

The  57th  was  initiating  the  new  fighter  groups  into  combat.  The 


171 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


79th's  commander,  its  squadron  commanders,  its  flight  leaders,  and  its 
intelligence  and  operations  officers  all  served  with  the  57th  before  the 
79th  began  independent  operations  on  14  March  from  Causeway,  a  flat, 
semitidal  sandspit  jutting  out  towards  the  island  of  Djerba.  One  squad- 
ron of  the  324th  (the  3 14th)  joined  the  57th  at  Zuara  and  stayed  with 
it  for  the  remainder  of  the  campaign.  The  other  two  (315th,  316th) 
joined  the  79th  at  La  Fauconnerie  and  Causeway,  respectively.  The 
remainder  of  the  12th  Group— two  squadrons  were  serving  under 
NATAF  in  Algeria—moved  up  to  El  Assa  on  3  March,  in  time  to  take 
part  in  the  Mareth  operations.^^ 

In  his  advance  from  Egypt^  Montgomery  had  been  careful  to  pre- 
serve correct  "balance,"  which  he  defined  as  the  disposition  of  forces 
in  such  a  way  as  to  make  it  unnecessary  to  react  to  enemy  blows:  a 
correctly  balanced  force  proceeded  methodically  with  its  operations. 
Not  long  after  the  Eighth  Army's  arrival  in  Tunisia,  however,  it  was 
forced  to  react  to  Rommel's  maneuvers  and  so  caused  its  commander 
some  anxiety.^^  The  occasion  arose  out  of  the  necessity  for  a  diversion 
during  the  Kasserine  battle:  Montgomery,  demonstrating  before  the 
Mareth  Line,  found  the  1 5  th  and  2  ist  Panzer  Divisions  and  part  of  the 
loth,  withdrawn  from  Kasserine,  concentrating  against  him.  He  had 
only  two  divisions  forward  (supply  had  prohibited  more)  and  had 
consequently  to  rush  the  New  Zealanders  up  from  Tripoli.  They 
arrived  in  time  to  help  fend  off  the  one-day  Axis  attack  of  6  March. 

Forced  also  to  assemble  rapidly  in  the  forward  area,  WDAF  had 
been  active  with  fighter-bombers  against  the  concentrating  Axis  col- 
umns and  had  combated  the  GAF  attempts  to  support  the  abortive 
attack;  but  targets  had  not  been  very  remunerative  and  the  weather  had 
turned  bad.  The  Eighth  Army  artillery  gave  a  good  account  of  itself— 
fifty  tanks  were  killed.  Rommel  left  Africa  on  sick  leave.  The  Axis  ini- 
tiative was  at  length  totally  exhausted,  and  the  first  step  in  the  liquida- 
tion of  its  Tunisian  bridgehead  could  now  be  taken.^^ 

Constriction  of  the  Bridgehead 

The  first  requirement  of  the  Army  plan  for  the  early  destruction  of 
the  Axis  in  Tunisia  was  to  get  Montgomery  north  of  the  Gabes  gap  to 
the  coastal  plain  where  in  concert  with  II  Corps  he  could  exploit  his 
mobility  and  striking  power.  During  this  phase,  First  Army  and  II 
Corps  would  endeavor  to  draw  enemy  reserves  from  the  Mareth  sys- 
tem, which  was  generally  conceded  to  be  a  hard  nut  to  crack,  even  for 


172 


CLIMAX   IN  TUNISIA 


the  Eighth  Army.^^  Montgomery  planned  to  move  during  the  March 
moon.  On  the  first  of  the  month  Anderson  was  directed  to  prepare  an 
offensive  in  his  southern  sector,  to  be  ready  to  roll  by  the  15th.  The 
specific  objective  was  Gafsa,  where  a  forward  dump  for  the  Eighth 
Army  would  be  established.  Having  securely  garrisoned  Gafsa,  the 
force  would  move  towards  Maknassy  to  menace  the  enemy  LOG  from 
Gabes.  An  essential  prerequisite  was  the  reoccupation  and  clearing  of 
the  Thelepte  airdromes.  To  this  operation  was  assigned  the  code  name 
WOP,  and  Patton's  II  Corps  had  the  responsibility  for  its  execution.^* 

II  Corps  had  been  considerably  enlarged  since  its  debut  in  central 
Tunisia  in  January,  Patton  could  dispose  two  infantry  divisions  for  the 
static  defense  of  the  approaches  to  Robaa,  Sbeitla,  and  Feriana  while 
with  an  infantry  and  an  armored  division  he  undertook  a  drive  on 
Gafsa.  Gafsa  once  taken,  II  Corps  would  develop  operations  towards 
Maknassy  in  accordance  with  instructions  from  i8th  Army  Group.^*^ 

The  air  contingent  for  WOP  comprised  Williams'  XII  Air  Support 
Command— three  fighter  groups  and  a  tactical  reconnaissance  squad- 
ron—to operate  from  Thelepte  and  a  detachment  of  the  Tactical  Bomber 
Force  to  operate  from  Youks.  Between  them,  XII ASC  and  TBF  would 
secure  and  maintain  a  high  degree  of  superiority  over  the  enemy  air 
forces  so  that  WDAF  could  perform  uninterruptedly  in  aid  of  the 
Eighth  Army's  assault  on  the  Mareth  Line,  scheduled  for  three  to  four 
days  after  the  inception  of  WOP.^® 

NATAF's  planning  assumed  that  Montgomery  would  surmount  the 
Mareth  obstacle.  So  airfields  were  to  be  prepared  not  only  in  the 
Thelepte-Sbeitla  area,  for  the  WOP  operation,  but  around  Le  Sers  and 
Le  Kef  and  in  the  Souk-el-Khemis  area.  From  these  latter  fields  the 
Axis  retreat  through  central  Tunisia  could  be  discomfited,  and  on  them 
air  power  would  be  sited  for  the  final  crushing  of  the  bridgehead.  It  was 
anticipated  that  XII  ASC's  radar  would  be  moved  northeastward  to 
cover  Kairouan;  and  thought  was  being  given  to  establishing  a  com- 
mon standard  of  fighter  control  for  XII  ASC,  242  Group,  and  WDAF 
so  that  in  the  final  phase  fighter  operations  could  be  controlled  from  the 
most  convenient  sector.^^ 

Arrangements  had  also  been  made  to  secure  NASAF's  participation 
in  the  impending  operations.  Montgomery  had  originally  requested,  in 
a  letter  to  Alexander  of  27  February,  heavy  bombing  attacks  on  the 
enemy  rear  areas  about  Gabes  during  the  week  preceding  his  attack 
and  for  D-day  a  tremendous,  day  bomber  attack  by  every  available 

173 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 


B-iy.^®  Broadhurst  passed  on  the  request  through  Coningham:  half  the 
Strategic  Air  Force  bomber  effort  during  the  critical  period  of  the 
attack  and  for  2 1  March  the  maximum  SAF  effort.  Spaatz'  reply  was 
more  conservative:  he  agreed  to  the  use  of  Doolittle's  mediums,  minus 
the  two  squadrons  reserved  for  shipping  strikes,  for  the  critical  period; 
on  21  March  the  B-17's  would  be  available,  unless  particularly  lucra- 
tive shipping  targets  were  discovered.^® 

Coningham's  instructions  to  Williams  for  the  WOP  project  were 
fairly  precise.  XII  ASC's  fighters  would  be  flown  offensively  in  the 
areas  where  the  enemy  air  force  would  likely  be  encountered,  not  in 
defensive  umbrellas  over  friendly  troops  (unless  enemy  air  attacks 
proved  persistent).  The  P-39's  (8ist  Group)  would  be  employed  for 
ground  strafing,  but  not  the  Spits  (31st  and  5 2d  Groups).  The  mini- 
mum scale  of  daily  tactical  reconnaissance  was  to  be  agreed  on  with 
the  corps  commander;  additional  requests  would  be  met  insofar  as 
available  fighter  escort  permitted,  this  to  be  clearly  explained  to  the 
corps  commander.  Forward  airdromes  would  not  be  occupied  with- 
out NAT  AF  approval.^^ 

Employing  the  ist  Armored  and  ist  Infantry  Divisions,  Patton's 
attack  jumped  off  on  the  night  of  16/17  March.  By  noon  of  the  17th, 
Gafsa  had  fallen  and  next  day  the  armor  pressed  on  to  Sened.  Held  up 
by  rain  for  a  time  thereafter,  it  took  Sened  Station  on  the  21st  and, 
pushing  up  the  Gafsa-Mahares  road,  occupied  Maknassy  on  the  2 2d; 
by  the  23d  it  had  reached  the  pass  beyond.  Meanwhile  the  infantry, 
driving  southeast,  had  found  El  Guettar  abandoned  and  sited  its  anti- 
tank guns  fifteen  miles  to  the  east  along  the  Gafsa  road.  On  the  23d  the 
enemy  attacked  with  tanks  and  infantry  and,  although  he  was  beaten 
off,  the  11  Corps  front  thereafter  was  stabilized,  by  and  large,  until  the 
Eighth  Army  had  got  north  of  Akarit.^^ 

During  the  first  two  days  of  the  offensive,  TBF  and  Xll  ASC  con- 
centrated on  the  immediate  battle  area.  Gafsa  was  attacked,  prior  to  its 
capture,  by  the  1 2th  Group's  B-25's  and,  no  enemy  aircraft  appearing, 
the  escort  came  down  to  strafe.  Reconnaissance  and  strafing  thereafter 
went  forward  on  a  reduced  scale  as  the  fighters  were  needed  for  escort 
on  the  TBF/NASAF  campaign  against  the  enemy  air.  However,  when 
on  23  March  the  Axis  counterattacked  II  Corps,  TBF  switched  its 
effort  long  enough  to  carry  out  highly  successful  bombing  on  concen- 
trations east  of  El  Guettar.^^ 

With  the  replacement  of  defensive  cover  flying  by  offensive  fighter 

174 


CLIMAX    IN  TUNISIA 


sweeps  and  the  use  of  radar  against  the  occasional  "bandits/'  the  pattern 
of  XII  ASC's  operations  differed  materially  from  that  which  had  char- 
acterized the  Faid-Kasserine  campaign.  The  sweeps,  mostly  in  the  El 
Guettar  area,  paid  off  handsomely:  in  the  period  23  March~3  April, 
sixty  enemy  planes  were  reported  destroyed,  as  against  fifteen  Allied 
aircraft  lost  and  missing.  Previously,  by  its  own  admission,  XII  ASC's 
losses  had  been  greater  than  its  victories.  The  Allied  air  was  beginning 
to  exploit  its  numerical  superiority.  TBF  continued  to  divide  its  atten- 
tion about  equally  between  counter-air  operations  and  battlefield 
bombing.  Especially  fine  road  targets  appeared  when  the  retreat  from 
Mareth  to  Wadi  Akarit  was  on,  and  TBF  then  supplemented  WDAF's 
light  bombers.  From  WOP's  D-day  to  the  retreat  to  the  Wadi,  bombing 
of  enemy  concentrations  produced  claims  of  14  tanks  and  129  M/T 
destroyed.  Moreover,  escorted  by  Spitfires,  XII  ASCs  P-40's  (33d 
Group)  began  regularly  doubling  as  fighter-bombers.^^ 

The  demise  of  the  umbrella  did  not  occur  without  protest.  Messages 
from  Patton  on  i  and  2  April  complained  that  his  divisional  command 
posts  and  forward  troops  were  being  continually  bombed;  that  because 
of  total  lack  of  air  cover  German  air  forces  had  been  able  to  operate 
above  his  units  almost  at  will.  The  GAF  commanders  contempora- 
neously being  bombed  out  of  their  airfields  would  not  have  agreed;  and 
Coningham's  reply  made  it  clear  that  containing  the  enemy  at  his  bases 
and  running  sweeps  against  him  in  the  forward  area  was  the  proved 
remedy  and  would  be  continued:  NATAF  would  not  revert  to  defen- 
sive tactics.^^ 

The  offensive  against  the  enemy  air  which  NAAF  unleashed  in 
southern  Tunisia  in  March,  with  the  immediate  object  of  quelling  air 
opposition  to  the  WOP-Mareth  operations  and  so  releasing  WDAF 
for  unstinted  cooperation  with  the  Eighth  Army,  was  the  opening 
round  in  an  unrelenting  campaign  which  was  to  drive  the  GAF  and 
lAF  from  airfield  to  pock-marked  airfield  and,  in  the  end,  entirely  out 
of  North  Africa.  At  the  outset,  the  greater  part  of  the  Axis  air  strength 
in  southern  Tunisia  occupied  bases  at  Tebaga  and  Gabes,  in  the  rear  of 
the  Mareth  Line,  and  at  Mezzouna,  fifteen  miles  east  of  Maknassy,  from 
which  the  entire  southern  face  of  the  bridgehead  could  be  covered. 
NASAF's  mediums  struck  the  first  blow  on  15  March  with  two  heav- 
ily escorted  attacks  on  Mezzouna,  most  favorably  placed  to  menace 
II  Corps'  attack.  Bad  weather  then  delayed  the  program  until  the  eve  of 
the  Mareth  battle.^® 


175 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES  IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


On  the  19th,  while  the  rains  held  NASAF  at  its  bases,  TBF's  bomb- 
ers, dropping  through  breaks  in  the  overcast,  commenced  a  series  of 
raids  on  the  landing  grounds  at  Gabes  and  Tebaga.  NATAF  designat- 
ing the  objectives,  the  agreed  NASAF  effort  then  came  into  play  on  a 
schedule  arranged  to  minimize  any  lull  while  WDAF  refueled  and 
rearmed.  NASAF  mediums  attacked  Gabes  and  Tebaga  on  the  20th; 
and  next  day  76  6-17*3  joined  to  bring  the  total  sorties  against  these 
fields  to  281  over  a  three-day  period.  The  first  stage  of  the  enemy  air's 
withdrawal  was  the  evacuation  of  Mezzouna  and  Gabes.  Tebaga  did 
not  long  remain  tenable.  A-20's  and  B-25's  from  TBF  cooperated  with 
NASAF's  mediums  to  this  end  on  24  and  25  March— twenty-eight  air- 
craft demolished  by  the  bombardment  were  left  on  the  field.  The  GAF 
retired  to  Sfax  and  La  Fauconnerie.^* 

Sfax,  harboring  night  bombers,  lay  beyond  XII  ASC's  fighter  range 
and  so,  except  for  TBF's  night  attacks,  its  field  fell  to  WDAF  for 
attention  when  the  ground  situation  permitted.  NASAF  having  retired 
from  the  counter-air  campaign,  TBF  began  on  30  March  the  system- 
atic reduction  of  the  La  Fauconnerie  group,  which  was  heavily  rein- 
forced with  AA  from  the  abandoned  southern  fields.  To  mark  the 
RAF's  25th  birthday  NAAF  had  planned  visits  in  force  to  airfields 
from  Sfax  to  Sicily,  but  bad  weather  interfered:  except  for  strikes  at 
La  Fauconnerie  and  El  Djem  the  American  effort  was  canceled.  The 
tempo  of  the  attack  on  the  La  Fauconnerie  group  nevertheless  mounted 
day  by  day,  242  Group's  Hurribombers  joining  in,  until  on  6  April 
seven  A-20  and  B-25  missions  were  laid  on.  The  La  Fauconnerie 
fighters,  with  all  they  could  do  to  defend  themselves,  were  no  longer  a 
threat.  On  7  April,  forty-eight  hours  before  the  ground  situation  de- 
manded, they  pulled  out.  By  the  loth  the  Axis  Tunisian  air  force  lay 
wholly  within  the  bridgehead  Enfidaville-Medjez-el-Bab-Pont-du- 
Fahs." 

XII ASC  evened  an  old  score  by  finally  routing  the  Stuka.  Escorted 
Ju-87  and  Ju-88  attacks  on  II  Corps'  spearheads  had  intensified  as  the 
troops  advanced,  and  these  attacks  reached  a  peak  on  i  April  with 
eighty-seven  aircraft  active  in  the  El  Guettar  area.  However,  XII  ASC 
began  using  Gafsa  as  an  advanced  landing  ground,  and  seldom  did 
the  enemy  get  away  without  loss.  In  the  late  afternoon  of  the  3d,  ele- 
ments of  the  U.S.  5 2d  Group  caught  a  score  of  Junkers,  escorted  by 
fourteen  fighters,  just  after  bombing  II  Corps.  Fourteen  Stukas  were 
destroyed  for  the  loss  of  one  Spit.  Not  long  afterward,  to  the  regret  of 

176 


CLIMAX   IN  TUNISIA 


Allied  fighter  pilots,  the  Ju-87  was  withdrawn  from  Africa.^^  The 
WOP  operations  also  witnessed  the  debut  of  the  Spit  IX  in  southern 
Tunisia.  A  squadron  of  IX's  acting  as  rear  cover  for  the  bombers  re- 
turning from  Tebaga  sprang  a  tactical  surprise  on  the  Me-109's,  seven 
of  which  were  reported  knocked  down  for  no  loss  to  the  Spits.^® 

The  Mareth  Line  had  been  built  by  the  French  against  an  Italian 
incursion  from  Libya.  Stretching  from  Zarat  on  the  coast  to  the  Mat- 
mata  hills,  its  northern  portion  featured  in  the  widened  and  deepened 
Wadi  Zigzaou  an  effective  antitank  ditch.  South  of  the  Medeninc- 
Gabes  road  were  less  continuous  tank  obstacles,  numerous  strongpoints, 
and  artillery  emplacements  capitalizing  on  the  observation  from  the 
near-by  Matmata.  West  of  the  hills  and  between  them  and  the  sand 
dunes  ran  a  forty-mile  corridor,  believed  at  the  time  of  the  line's  con- 
struction to  be  impassable.  Not  long  before  the  war,  maneuvers  having 
demonstrated  otherwise,  the  French  hastily  added  a  switch  line  at 
Djebel  Tebaga.  They  had  planned  to  hold  the  position  with  two  divi- 
sions in  the  main  line,  two  in  reserve  at  Mareth,  and  one  or  two  addi- 
tional to  cover  the  corridor.  The  1943  battle  followed  very  closely  the 
earlier  French  conception.'^** 

General  Giovanni  Messe,  who  had  succeeded  Rommel,  initially  dis- 
posed his  German  and  Italian  infantry  in  the  Mareth  fortifications  with 
the  armor  in  the  rear,  the  15  th  Panzer  close  up,  the  21st  guarding  the 
Tebaga  gap.  Montgomery,  who  had  sent  his  Long  Range  Desert  Group 
into  the  area,  realized  the  possibilities  of  the  corridor  west  of  the  Mat- 
mata and  advanced  with  a  flanking  movement  in  mind,  keeping  Le- 
clerc's  force  well  forward  as  a  screen.  Leclerc,  at  Ksar  Rhilane,  so  dis- 
turbed the  Mareth  defenders  that  on  10  March  armored  cars  were  sent 
out  to  attack  him.  WDAF,  which  answered  to  the  call  with  Hurricane 
IID's— "tank  busters"— Kittybombers,  and  Spits,  materially  assisted  the 
French  in  beating  off  the  attack.*^ 

Montgomery  grounded  his  plan  for  breaking  the  Mareth  Line  on  the 
assumption  that  the  opposition  could  not  withstand  two  major  attacks: 
if  it  concentrated  against  one,  the  other  would  be  reinforced  and  driven 
through.  So,  while  a  division  and  an  armored  brigade  attacked  the 
coastal  sector,  the  2  New  Zealand,  strengthened  by  Leclerc  and  other 
formations,  would  move  down  the  corridor  west  of  the  Matmata  hills, 
proceeding  by  night  marches  until  discovered.  As  the  date  for  the 
attack  approached,  WDAF  concentrated  on  the  Mareth  defenses 
themselves,  in  accordance  with  Montgomery's  appreciation  that  they 

177 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES  IN  WORLD  WAR  II 

could  not  be  broken  by  ground  action  alone.  TBF,  NASAF,  and  XII 
ASC  meanwhile  taking  on  the  Luftwaffe,  WDAF  and  the  Eighth 
Army  worked  without  substantial  interference  from  the  enemy  air.*^ 

The  Ninth  Air  Force  elements  in  position  directly  to  take  a  hand  in 
the  Mareth  battle  were  the  two  veteran  groups,  the  12th  (minus  two 
squadrons)  at  El  Assa  and  the  57th,  with  one  squadron  of  the  324th 
under  its  tutelage,  in  the  Medenine-Ben  Gardane  area.  The  79th,  also 
with  a  squadron  of  the  324th,  operated  from  Causeway,  With  the 
enemy  air  being  largely  contained  by  XII  ASC  and  TBF,  fighter  cover 
for  light,  medium,  and  fighter-bomber  missions  was  kept  to  a  minimum 
and  was  successfully  furnished  by  the  new  79th.  The  B-25's  operated 
both  by  day  and  by  night,  mostly  in  attacks  on  enemy  concentrations 
in  the  battle  area.  The  57  th  flew  in  its  normal  role— sweeps,  strafing, 
and  bombing  missions.  That  the  opposition  still  had  teeth  to  be  drawn 
was  demonstrated  on  a  sweep  over  Gabes  on  13  March.  Thirty-six 
P-40's  of  the  57th  and  3  24th  Groups  with  a  top  cover  of  Spits  ran  into 
heavy  A  A  and  around  thirty  Me-109's  and  Mc-202's  which  concen- 
trated on  the  top  P-40  squadron.  Four  P-40's  and  three  pilots  were  lost, 
but  the  Spits  claimed  one  and  the  P-40's  four  of  the  attackers.  For  three 
days  thereafter,  the  enemy  fighters  could  not  be  brought  into  combat.^^ 

The  20th  of  March  dawned  clear,  enabling  WDAF  to  take  some 
badly  needed  photographs.  Around  midnight  the  coastal  attack  went 
in  across  the  Wadi  Zigzaou.  At  dawn  of  the  21st,  50  Division  was  in 
possession  of  strongpoints  on  the  northern  bank.  Meanwhile,  New 
Zealand  Corps,  27,000  strong  with  200  tanks,  was  making  its  way 
towards  the  switch  line  between  Djebels  Tebaga  and  Melab;  abandon- 
ing any  idea  of  deception,  it  marched  by  day  as  well,  and  by  dark  of 
20  March  had  almost  closed  the  enemy  positions  southwest  of  El 
Hamma.  WDAF  supported  this  thrust  mostly  with  fighter-bombers, 
reserving  the  medium  and  light  bombers  for  the  coastal  sector  where 
the  infantry  was  involved  in  a  bitter  struggle. 

Rain,  which  filled  the  Wadi  Zigzaou  and  partially  isolated  the  bridge- 
head and  also  prevented  WDAF  from  blasting  an  impending  counter- 
attack by  German  reserves,  sealed  the  fate  of  the  coastal  thrust  on 
22  March.  Montgomery  thereupon  sent  an  armored  division  and  a 
corps  headquarters  to  reinforce  his  southern  column  before  the  switch 
line,  mounted  a  thrust  against  the  gaps  in  the  Matmata  to  shorten  his 
communications,  and  evacuated  50  Division  on  the  night  of  23/24 
March.  Feints  and  air  and  artillery  bombardment  were  employed  to 

178 


CLIMAX    IN  TUNISIA 


detain  the  German  reserves  in  the  coastal  sector.  The  P-40's  and  B-25's 
had  been  active  in  furthering  50  Division's  attack,  particularly  on  22 
March  when  enemy  concentrations  were  bombed  near  Zarat.  On  this 
occasion  the  GAF  and  lAF  came  up  to  fight.  One  B--2  5  failed  to  return 
as  the  escorting  P-40's  compiled  claims  of  enemy  fighters  probably 
destroyed  and  damaged.  On  the  same  day,  the  Hurricane  IID  tank 
busters— the  RAF  called  them  "tin  openers"— had  one  of  their  few  suc- 
cessful shoots:  nine  tanks  destroyed  out  of  a  force  operating  against 
New  Zealand  Corps.** 

At  the  switch  line,  even  after  i  Armoured  Division  had  arrived,  the 
situation  looked  none  too  prosperous.  The  enemy  had  laid  mine  fields 
and  enjoyed  good  observation  and  antitank  guns  in  the  hills  flanking  the 
gap.  Besides  Italian  formations,  the  21st  Panzer  Division  was  in  place, 
backed  up  by  the  1 5th  Panzer  and  the  1 64th  Infantry,  Lt.  Gen.  Bernard 
C.  Freyberg,  commanding  the  New  Zealand  Corps,  believed  that 
lengthy  outflanking  operations  were  necessary,  operations  manifestly 
difficult  to  supply.  In  the  circumstances,  the  Eighth  Army  staff  held 
earnest  conversations  with  Broadhurst.  Broadhurst  suggested  an  inten- 
sive low-flying  daylight  attack  on  a  narrow  frontage— an  attack  de- 
signed to  take  advantage  of  the  fact  that  the  enemy  was  not  dug  in  and 
his  flak  was  weak;  behind  a  creeping  barrage  the  tanks  and  infantry 
would  then  attempt  to  pierce  the  gap  before  further  enemy  reinforce- 
ments could  be  brought  into  play.  The  proposed  low-altitude  work 
represented  a  departure  for  WDAF,  which  had  apparently  eschewed 
such  intimate  support  lest  the  wastage  hamper  the  maintenance  of  air 
superiority.  In  preparation,  on  the  two  nights  preceding  the  battle,  all 
available  bombers  were  thrown  at  the  enemy  armor.*** 

At  the  landing  grounds  on  the  morning  of  the  26th  a  bad  sandstorm 
was  blowing,  but  it  cleared  in  the  afternoon  and  the  assault,  in  which 
the  U.S.  57th  and  79th  Groups  participated,  ^ell  on  the  Axis  at  El  Ham- 
ma  out  of  a  sunny  and  dusty  sky.  First  into  the  attack  flew  three 
escorted  light  bomber  squadrons,  followed  by  the  tank  busters;  there- 
after two  and  a  half  squadrons  of  P-40's  (Kitty bombers)  were  fed  in 
eveiry  quarter  hour  to  bomb  selected  targets  and  strafe  gun  positions. 
The  operation,  carried  out  at  low  altitude,  achieved  unqualified  success, 
the  creeping  barrage  furnishing  a  first-rate  bomb  line.  A  constant  patrol 
of  Spitfires  guarded  against  air  interference,  but  NATAF  was  keeping 
the  enemy  busy  at  his  home  airfields.  Eleven  pilots  were  missing  after 
the  two-and-a-quarter-hour  blitz. 


179 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


By  nightfall  the  New  Zealanders,  followed  by  i  Armoured  Division, 
had  broken  into  the  Axis  positions,  and  the  armor  passed  straight 
through  in  a  moonlight  operation.  Next  day  the  enemy  fought  des- 
perately in  a  confused  melee,  but  the  Mareth  position  had  been  turned. 
Evacuation  began  on  the  night  of  the  27th  and,  sandstorms  intervening, 
proceeded  virtually  unbombed  on  the  28th.  On  the  29th,  however,  the 
P-40's  contributed  to  418  strafing  and  bombing  sorties  on  the  coast-road 
traffic  as  far  north  as  Mahares.  Attacks  were  also  made  on  landing 
grounds  at  Zitouna,  Oudref,  and  Sfax.  The  Ninth  Air  Force  sustained 
in  these  operations  the  loss  of  three  P-40's  and  a  B- 2 5.  By  29  March  the 
British  were  in  Gabes.*^  In  retrospect,  the  low-level  air  attack  on  the 
switch  line  had  contributed  mightily  to  the  uncovering  of  the  Mareth 
defenses.  According  to  the  Eighth  Army's  chief  of  staff,  De  Guingand, 
higher  RAF  quarters  tended  to  play  it  down  out  of  apprehension  of 
constant  army  demands  for  this  type  of  mission;**^  at  any  rate,  the  Air 
Ministry  was  interested  enough  to  request  a  report  on  the  principles 
and  methods  employed.*^ 

Badly  weakened  by  his  recent  hammering,  the  enemy  now  lay  in  the 
Gabes  gap,  where  the  sea  and  the  Chott  el  Fedjedj  were  only  fifteen 
miles  apart.  Across  the  interval  stretched  the  Wadi  Akarit,  not  so  wide 
as  the  Wadi  Zigzaou  but  dominated  by  steep-sided  hills  on  its  northern 
bank.  The  first  five  days  of  April  were  spent  by  the  Eighth  Army  in 
preparing  to  force  this  last  gateway  to  the  coastal  plain.  WDAF,  al- 
though hampered  by  three  days  of  bad  weather,  turned  the  time  to  ac- 
count by  laying  on  light  bomber  missions  against  Sfax/El  Maou,  a  nest 
of  Me-109's  and  Mc-202's  and  a  staging  field  for  Sicily-based  Me-2  lo's 
and  ju-88's.  On  the  morning  of  6  April  the  Eighth  Army  attacked  and 
a  day  of  bitter  fighting  followed.  AVDAF  threw  in  heavy,  light,  and 
fighter-bomber  missions  against  counterattacking  forces,  in  which 
missions  Ninth  Air  Force  elements  bore  full  share.  Exhausted  by  Mont- 
gomery's pressure,  the  enemy  pulled  out  the  next  night.*^ 

The  forcing  of  the  Wadi  Akarit  unhinged  the  whole  southern  front. 
On  the  7  th,  II  Corps  and  Eighth  Army  had  joined  patrols  east  of  Mak- 
nassy.  Everywhere  the  enemy  was  in  flight  and  nowhere  was  he  out  of 
range  of  the  Allied  air  forces.  On  7  April  all  available  XII  ASC  and 
WDAF  aircraft  attacked  the  backtracking  columns  with  devastating 
eflFect  and  slight  enemy  air  interference.  XII  ASC  and  TBF  concen- 
trated on  the  Chemsi  Pass,  southeast  of  El  Guettar,  with  A-20's,  B-25's, 
and  P-40's  all  bombing.*^^ 

180 


CLIMAX    IN  TUNISIA 


WDAF  continued  the  program  on  the  8th,  but  XII  ASC  was 
grounded  by  weather.  Next  day  XII  ASC  turned  its  attention  to  the 
central  sector  where  9  Corps  had  designs  on  Fondouk  Gap  and 
Kairouan.  From  Kairouan  the  forces  fleeing  north  from  Akarit  could 
be  cut  off.  For  this  operation,  the  U.S.  34th  Division  came  under 
9  Corps  command  and  XII  ASC  moved  completely  into  the  Sbeitla 
airdromes  (the  33d  Group,  which  had  rejoined  after  a  sojourn  in  the 
rear  areas,  had  been  operating  from  Sbeitla  i  since  10  March).  The 
attack  jumped  off  on  8  April,  took  the  pass  on  the  9th,  and  Kairouan  on 
the  I  ith.  Nevertheless,  the  enemy,  who  had  rushed  in  reinforcements, 
had  been  able  to  impose  sufficient  delay  and  had  got  his  forces  safely 
north  of  Kairouan  (in  the  process,  however,  his  dwindling  armor  had 
absorbed  further  punishment  from  the  British  6  Armoured).  From  the 
point  of  view  of  air-ground  cooperation,  the  Fondouk  drive  also  left 
something  to  be  desired.  Communications  were  bad  and  9  Corps  lacked 
experience  in  coordinated  air-ground  effort  under  battle  conditions. 
Premeditated  attacks,  part  of  the  original  plan,  were  canceled  at  the 
last  minute;  when  called  for  again  there  was  not  time  enough  to  carry 
them  out.  Little  enemy  air  activity  was  observed,  but  on  the  afternoon 
of  9  April  the  U.S.  5 2d  Group  caught  two  formations  of  Ju-88's  and 
knocked  down  eight  for  the  loss  of  a  Spit.^^ 

While  WDAF  was  preparing  for  its  final  African  move— to  the 
Kairouan-El  Djem-Hergla  area— XII  ASC  bore  the  brunt  of  punish- 
ing the  retreat,  242  Group  joining  with  its  Spits  and  Hurribombers  as 
the  enemy  drew  within  range.  XII  ASC  then  moved  to  the  Le  Sers 
region  from  which  its  aircraft  could  cover  the  whole  bridgehead;  by 
1 2  April  it  was  clear  of  the  Thelepte-Sbeitla  area.  TBF's  day  bombers, 
which  had  come  forward  to  Thelepte  in  early  April,  transferred  to 
Souk-el- Arba,  convenient  to  escort  from  242  Group.  The  night  bomb- 
ers remained  at  Canrobert  and  Biskra. 

On  9  April,  NATAF  headquarters  had  opened  at  Haidra  in  the 
center  of  the  battle  line.  A  week  later,  moving  again  to  Le  Kef  (where 
the  headquarters  was  not  concealed  from  the  air),  the  NATAF- 1 8th 
Army  Group  caravans  intersected  the  line  of  march  of  II  Corps'  four 
divisions  on  their  way  north  to  Beja,  moving  bumper  to  bumper,  day 
and  night.  The  stage  w  as  being  set  for  the  liquidation  of  the  Axis  in- 
vestment in  the  African  continent.®^ 


181 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


Isolation  of  the  Bridgehead 

On  1 8  February,  while  Spaatz  was  activating  N AAF  at  Algiers  and 
II  Corps  and  XII  ASC  were  feverishly  preparing  the  defense  of  the 
Western  Dorsal,  an  advance  detachment  of  IX  Bomber  Command 
headquarters  pitched  camp  at  Berka  Main,  once  the  principal  civil 
flying  field  for  the  Bengasi  area.  The  B-24's  were  undertaking  another 
move,  their  third  since  Palestine  days;  this  one  had  been  planned  at 
least  since  November,  but  was  delayed  by  the  familiar  logistical  dif- 
ficulties. The  command's  two  groups  pulled  up  stakes  at  Gambut,  jour- 
neyed westward,  and  soon  were  disposed  at  a  semicircle  of  airdromes 
south  of  the  battered  Italian  port.  Not  involved  in  the  move  was  the 
93  d,  which,  having  come  into  Tafaraoui  in  December  in  expectation 
of  a  ten-day  African  stay,  was  finally  restored  to  the  Eighth  Air  Force; 
late  in  February  it  flew  north  for  England.®^ 

Headquarters  and  two  squadrons  (345th  and  415th)  of  the  98th 
Group  settled  at  Benina,  to  the  east  of  Bengasi.  The  other  two  squad- 
rons inherited  a  site  near  by,  styled  in  the  Italian  Lete  (Lethe)  because 
of  its  proximity  to  the  underground  stream  which  in  ancient  times  was 
thought  to  lead  directly  into  Hell.  Whatever  its  dismal  associations, 
Lete  had  an  all-weather  strip.  The  376th  Group,  under  its  new  com- 
mander. Col.  Keith  Compton,  moved  into  unsurfaced  Soluch,  thirty 
miles  south  of  Bengasi,  where,  if  relatively  isolated,  it  was  solaced  by 
the  neighboring  duck  ponds,  the  denizens  of  which  were  utilized  to 
vary  C  rations.  The  RAF's  178  Squadron  moved  into  a  spot  on  the 
Tripoli  road  baptized  Hose  Raui,  and  operations  commenced  from  the 
Bengasi  complex.^^ 

From  the  first  they  were  plagued  by  the  elements.  On  24  February 
and  I  March,  the  B-24's  were  able  to  bomb  despite  the  haze  over 
Naples;  but  on  13  March  a  formation  encountering  heavy  overcast 
failed  to  reach  the  target.  On  2  3  February,  however,  the  air  over  Mes- 
sina was  passably  clear  and  the  ferry  slips  took  a  direct  hit;  fires  and 
explosions  also  resulted  and  a  ship  in  the  harbor  was  hit  or  very  nearly 
so.  On  24  March,  eighteen  B-24's  in  two  formations  returned  to  hit 
the  western  end  of  the  building  which  housed  the  operating  gear  and  to 
damage  one  of  the  ferries.  Considerable  havoc  was  also  wrought  on  this 
occasion  on  the  U-boat  base.®^  The  bad  weather  often  protecting 
Naples  must  have  sorely  tried  the  inhabitants  of  Crotone,  a  town  on  the 
ball  of  the  Italian  boot  which  had  the  misfortune  to  be  on  the  direct 

182 


CLIMAX    IN  TUNISIA 


route  home  to  Libya  and  to  contain  a  chemical  factory  of  some  impor- 
tance. B-24's  frustrated  by  clouds  over  Naples  almost  invariably  called 
at  Crotone,  and  although  some  very  effective  attacks  were  made  on  the 
chemical  plant,  bombs  sometimes  fell  in  the  town.^^ 

On  12  March,  IX  Bomber  Command  headquarters  completed  its 
transfer  from  the  Delta  by  establishing  itself  in  three  buildings  adjacent 
to  Berka;  from  the  flat  roof  of  the  largest  the  take-off  from  Berka  2, 
Lete,  and  Benina  could  be  observed.  A  week  later.  Colonel  Rush  was 
ordered  back  to  the  States  and  was  succeeded  by  Colonel  Ent.  American 
aviation  engineers  began  to  take  up  maintenance  and  construction 
duties  at  the  Bengasi  fields.  The  812th  Engineer  Aviation  Battalion 
arrived  in  March,  a  unit  which  since  mid- 194  2  had  been  constructing 
airdromes  in  Kenya,  developing  a  southern  ferry  route  across  Africa 
against  the  possibility  of  the  interruption  of  the  Takoradi-Khartoum 
artery.  At  the  very  end  of  the  campaign,  C  Company  of  the  835th 
Battalion  was  also  at  work  at  Bengasi.^^ 

The  third  week  in  March  was  taken  up  by  weather-ridden  missions 
to  Naples.  On  one  occasion,  the  98th  Group  came  back  to  find  the 
Bengasi  area  blanketed  with  low  clouds  and  soaked  with  rain  which 
rendered  every  field  but  Lete  unserviceable.  One  by  one,  in  the  brief 
intervals  when  the  clouds  lifted,  the  B-24's  slipped  into  Lete,  turned 
olT  the  strip,  and  mired  fast.  All  had  to  be  pried  loose  next  morning. 
The  ferry  building  at  Messina  continued  to  defy  the  best  efforts  of  the 
command  (it  did  so  even  to  the  end  of  the  Sicihan  campaign);  but  in 
late  March  and  early  April  the  B-24's  made  gallant  attempts  to  oblit- 
erate the  pinpoint  target.  The  risky  method  devised  by  the  planners 
involved  three  B-24's  taking  off  from  Malta  (Luca),  making  a  great 
circle  around  Sicily  in  darkness,  assembling,  and,  on  the  deck,  sweep- 
ing down  on  the  strait  from  the  west.  On  28  March  low  clouds  spoiled 
the  attack.  Two  B-24's,  however,  chose  alternate  targets— Vibo  Valen- 
tia  airfield  and  Crotone;  the  three  tons  of  bombs  salvoed  on  the  chem- 
ical works  from  fifty  feet  caused  tremendous  damage.  On  i  April,  three 
more  B-24's  left  for  Luca,  and  two  finally  attacked  Messina.  After  178 
Squadron  disturbed  the  repose  of  the  defenders,  the  B-24's  bore  down 
on  the  strait,  full  throttle.  One  string  of  bombs  tore  a  gaping  hole  in  the 
parapet  of  the  Messina  terminal.  On  its  way  to  San  Giovanni,  the 
second  B-24  ran  into  a  big  convoy  of  Ju-52's,  shot  down  a  transport, 
drove  off  two  Me-109's  and  a  Ju-88  from  the  escort,  and  still  dropped 
its  bombs  in  the  target  area.**® 

183 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 


The  command  tacticians  had  been  given  food  for  thought  by  the 
24  March  mission  against  Messina  when  enemy  fighters  inaugurated 
air-to-air  bombing  with  salvoes  of  small  time-fuzed  bombs  with  bright 
markings,  so  raising  the  perennial  question  of  the  relative  advantages 
of  tight  or  loose  formations.  The  first  success  of  these  devices  occurred 
over  Naples  on  1 1  April:  a  B-24's  tail  was  blown  off.  Nevertheless,  the 
port  took  a  pounding:  in  two  raids  (10  and  1 1  April)  the  harbor  moles 
and  shipping  were  hit  and  five  interceptors  reportedly  shot  down. 
Moreover,  air-to-air  bombing  never  became  a  first-class  menace.'^ 

On  6  April  the  376th  Group  moved  out  of  Soluch  to  Berka  2,  where 
the  British  engineers  had  prepared  a  hard-surfaced  landing  strip  and 
taxi-track.  A  week  later  the  group  became  involved  in  a  blitz  on 
Catania  harbor,  which  had  begun  to  show  increased  activity.  The 
specific  target  was  a  large  tanker  reported  by  British  reconnaissance. 
On  13  and  18  April,  10/10  cloud  shielded  the  port.  During  the  attack 
of  the  15th,  the  376th  Group  shot  down  an  enemy  aircraft  and  caused 
large  fires  on  the  southeast  corner  of  the  mole.  Both  the  98th  and  376th 
attacked  on  the  i6th  and  the  latter  went  back  next  day  reportedly  to 
sink  a  merchant  vessel.  One  of  its  B-24's,  mortally  damaged,  crashed  on 
the  very  edge  of  safety  at  Luca— the  engineer  and  two  gunners  were  the 
first  IX  Bomber  Command  personnel  to  be  buried  on  the  island.  If  the 
tanker  went  unscathed,  Catania  harbor  had  not.®** 

During  April,  NASAF  commenced  a  series  of  vicious  and  very  suc- 
cessful raids  on  airfields  in  Sicily,  Italy,  and  Sardinia.  IX  Bomber  Com- 
mand made  only  one  such  attack,  but  that  an  effective  one.  The  GAF 
used  Bari  as  a  transport  base,  and  there  also  new  Me-109's  lined  the  field 
awaiting  assignment  to  tactical  units.  To  aid  the  1 8th  Army  Group's 
offensive  in  Tunisia,  NATAF  was  anxious  to  write  off  the  GAP 
replacements.  Sixty-two  B-24's  appeared  on  26  April  with  500-pound- 
ers  and  20-pound  frags  to  dismantle  the  hangars  and  destroy  an  esti- 
mated twenty-seven  aircraft.  On  28  April  the  376th  went  to  Naples  for 
the  last  time  until  midsummer,  the  imminent  fall  of  Tunisia  having 
lowered  the  priority  of  the  great  harbor  in  comparison  with  Sicily  and 
the  Strait  of  Messina— "Ack-Ack  Alley."  On  the  same  day  the  98th 
inaugurated  a  long  series  of  raids  on  that  much-bombed  neighborhood 
with  a  strike  at  Messina.  Reggio  di  Calabria  (where  two  small  Italian 
ships  were  sunk  on  6  May)  and  Augusta  following,  the  effort  soon  be- 
came in  name  as  well  as  in  fact  part  of  the  air  preparation  for  HUSKY.^^ 

While  IX  Bomber  Command  worked  from  Bengasi  against  the  Axis 

184 


HE&W  fiOMBBRS  HIT  AMMQ  $11^  PAWMQi  n  mRC»  t^j 


Ifpt^  Left:  24  B-17's  AT  i8j5^ito^  S^Mb'^C^  Ahtisvb  Net 

t^tj^  Left:  Bombs  Hit  CRinielt 


TRIESTM,  to  AMtIL  i^^j 


Upper  Right:  Chuiseb  Sinks 

L&^jm^  Sl^i  >&xT  Dav  PttdT^}  Sapsifjf^f^tAi^  Sifcywsi  Gkmam  ScinI£^  Gti^lim  Ofi?  Aia 
Bubbles  amb  Oil  Slicks 


mkVY  iC^IBEitS  HiT  AKfMO  SHIP  OFF  BEQEIITE,  6  APRIL  ta^ 


CLIMAX    IN  TUNISIA 


supply  at  the  Sicilian  and  Italian  ports,  NAAF  had  been  engaged  in  a 
desperate  struggle  to  shut  off  the  funnel  at  its  western  end.  In  mid- 
February  the  regularity  of  Axis  reinforcement  via  the  Sicilian  strait  was 
the  gloomy  counterpart  of  the  defeats  at  Faid  and  Kasserine.  The 
Royal  Navy  and  the  Malta  RAF  waged  incessant  war  against  this 
traffic,  and  during  January  and  February  the  Twelfth  Air  Force  me- 
diums had  achieved  a  measure  of  success.  But  since  the  abandonment  of 
the  expensive  Libyan  run  and  the  take-over  of  the  French  merchant 
navy,  the  Axis  shipping  resources  were  suddenly  in  a  more  flourishing 
condition:  Allied  estimates  of  i  February  gave  two  million  tons,  includ- 
ing adequate  tanker  capacity;  on  that  same  day  at  Berlin  it  was  reported 
to  Hitler  that  105  ships  had  arrived  in  Italy  from  France.  The  Tunisian 
garrison  required  some  3,000  tons  daily— an  amount  which  could  be 
handled  by  50,000  to  100,000  tons  of  operational  shipping.  Conse- 
quently, the  Allies  were  under  the  necessity  of  developing  methods  to 
impose  a  strict  blockade  interrupting  in  transit  the  flow  of  materiel  and 
manpower.  The  Twelfth's  minimum-altitude  technique,  heretofore  a 
prime  weapon,  had  been  checkmated  by  more  generous  air  and  naval 
escort  for  the  convoys  and  the  incorporation  therein  of  the  heavily 
gunned  Siebel  ferry.®^  The  enemy's  countermeasures,  however,  im- 
posed upon  him  corresponding  and  heavy  expenditures.  The  Italians 
were  very  short  of  naval  escort  vessels,  and  the  umbrellas  the  GAF  had 
perforce  to  provide  cut  heavily  into  aircraft  useful  elsewhere. 
Throughout  the  campaign,  this  defensive  commitment  put  a  continual 
drain  on  the  Luftwaff e.^® 

For  the  task,  NAAF  had  two  air  forces  available— Strategic  and 
Coastal— and  two  general  types  of  objectives— harbors  and  convoys. 
NASAF's  over-all  responsibility  for  the  destruction  of  Axis  communi- 
cations with  Tunisia  was  emphasized  in  a  series  of  March  directives. 
Doolittle's  priorities  on  i  March  were:  first,  south  and  westbound 
shipping  from  Sicily  and  Italy;  second,  north  and  eastbound  shipping 
from  Tunisia;  third,  aircraft  and  airdroriie  facilities;  fourth,  critical 
communications  points  in  Tunisia.  Of  ship  types,  tankers  were  most 
attractive.  The  instructions  were  modified  at  least  twice  during  the 
month:  on  the  i6th,  to  require  the  use  of  heavies  exclusively  against 
shipping  except  when  specific  advance  authority  was  granted  by 
NAAF;  on  the  24th,  to  give  tankers  under  way  an  even^higher  priority 
and  to  place  active  shipping  in  ports  and  the  ports  themselves  (in  that 
order)  ahead  of  enemy  air.^* 

185 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


The  general  spheres  of  Strategic  and  Coastal  had  been  delineated  by 
the  mid-February  reorganization,  but  the  details  remained  to  be  worked 
out.  Coastal,  commanded  by  Air  Vice  Marshal  Lloyd  from  Algiers, 
was  charged  with  the  air  defense  of  the  African  coast,  with  protection 
of  friendly  convoys,  with  antisubmarine  operations  in  the  western 
Mediterranean,  with  air-sea  reconnaissance,  and  with  strikes  against 
enemy  shipping.*  Its  squadrons  were  strung  out  from  Agadir  to  Bone. 
Its  regularly  attached  American  units  comprised  the  ist  and  2d  Air 
Defense  Wings,  the  latter  with  the  U.S.  350th  Fighter  Group  (P-39's) 
under  command.  During  the  Tunisian  campaign  the  two  wings  were 
for  the  most  part  engaged  in  taking  the  kinks  out  of  their  air  defense 
system,  but  by  May  the  2d  Wing  had  been  given  responsibility  for  the 
more  active  Algiers  region,  in  addition  to  the  coast  line  west  to  Span- 
ish Morocco.  The  P-39's  were  used  for  convoy  escort,  patrol,  and 
scrambles,  but  they  could  not  intercept  the  high-flying  Axis  recon- 
naissance.^^ Few  of  NACAF's  units  were  within  range  of  the  Axis 
shipping  lanes.  A  Fleet  Air  Arm  Albacore  squadron  was  based  as  far 
east  as  possible  for  short-range  reconnaissance  of  the  Bizerte  ap- 
proaches, and  a  squadron  of  Marauders  (B-26*s),  relieved  from  tor- 
pedo bombing,  provided  long-range  reconnaissance  in  Corsican  and 
Sardinian  waters  as  far  north  as  Genoa,  east  to  Naples  and  the  Strait 
of  Messina.^® 

In  February  most  of  NASAF's  sweeps  in  the  Sicilian  narrows  had 
been  carried  out  blind— six  mediums  with  a  squadron  of  P-38's  to  deal 
with  the  air  opposition  which  almost  invariably  developed,  either  from 
the  convoy  escort  or  from  fighters  vectored  out  from  Tunisia  or  Sicily. 
The  Royal  Navy  having  mined  the  direct  channel,  the  enemy  now  ran 
his  convoys  farther  east  towards  Pantelleria,  thence  close  inshore  to 
Tunis,  and  onward.  Against  these  more  distant  targets  NASAF  began 
experimenting  with  substitutes  for  the  minimum-altitude  attacks, 
which  had  become  too  costly.  Reverting  to  medium  altitude  (8,000 
feet)  did  not  work— no  ships  were  hit;  and  finally,  Ridenour's  sugges- 
tion of  coordinated  medium  and  low  attacks  was  taken  up:  three  three- 
plane  elements  at  8,000  and  two  three-plane  elements  on  the  deck,  the 
latter  attacking  amid  the  confusion  caused  by  the  former's  bombs. 
After  the  groups  had  been  intensively  trained,  this  method  got  results: 
on  1 2  March  three  Siebel  ferries  were  sunk  and  three  severely  damaged 
out  of  eleven  encountered. 

*  See  above,  p.  163. 
186 


CLIMAX    IN  TUNISIA 


Yet  this  technique  also  had  its  demerits.  The  low  flight  might  lag  be- 
hind and  lose  visual  contact,  or  not  identify  the  target  until  too  close  to 
maneuver  and  still  take  advantage  of  surprise.  Consequently,  later  in 
March  the  high  and  low  flights  began  searching  together  and  separating 
when  an  occasion  for  an  attack  presented.  NASAF  not  only  aug- 
mented the  number  of  bombers  with  profit;  it  began  laying  on  two 
sweeps  daily.  If  the  increased  escort  requirements  cut  heavily  into  the 
available  P-38's,  the  necessity  for  heavy  escort  was  indisputable.^^ 

In  March,  NACAF's  Marauder  reconnaissance  began  to  provide  in- 
formation on  Africa-bound  convoys  in  the  Tyrrhenian  Sea,  so  paving 
the  way  for  NASAF  to  lay  on  timed  strikes  in  the  Sicilian  narrows.  On 
1 6  March,  accordingly,  Spaatz  directed  Doolittle  to  hold  two  medium 
squadrons  for  missions  to  be  assigned  by  NACAF;  and  on  the  24th  a 
NAAF  order  forbade  the  employment  of  the  squadrons  in  question  on 
other  than  NACAF  authority.  Coastal  shared  with  the  Royal  Navy  an 
operations  room  at  the  St.  George  Hotel  in  Algiers  where  the  location 
of  all  friendly  and  enemy  shipping  and  submarines  was  constantly  plot- 
ted. Here  the  Marauders'  report  was  filed,  and  if  the  target  was  suitable 
the  NASAF  mediums  would  be  ordered  against  it.  This  system  chafed 
NASAF  in  that  no  provision  existed  for  releasing  the  bombers  and  their 
escort.  Other  bomber  commitments  were  suflFering  from  the  shortage 
of  P-38's.  Besides,  NASAF  had  access  to  other  information— from  its 
own  P-38  reconnaissance  and  from  reports  derived  from  Malta  via 
NATAF  and  i8th  Army  Group— which  disclosed  profitable  targets. 
These  considerations  being  set  forth  at  a  conference  on  the  25th,  Lloyd 
agreed  generally  to  release  the  antishipping  force  if  a  target  had  not 
been  assigned  by  2000  hours  the  previous  night;  on  extreme  occasions 
NACAF  might  hold  it  until  midnight.  This  understanding  governed 
the  two  commands  through  the  remainder  of  the  campaign.^® 

On  special  occasions  the  B-17's  also  were  employed  against  convoys 
at  sea,  with  excellent  results  reported.  The  first  such  attack  took  place 
oflF  the  Lipari  Islands,  north  of  Sicily,  on  26  February,  when  twenty 
B-17's  bombed  a  twenty-one- vessel  convoy  from  15,000  feet,  claimed 
to  have  sunk  one  ship,  and  fired  three.  In  March  the  B-i7*s  made  five 
attacks  in  less  remote  waters.  On  the  4th,  fifteen  B-ifs  claimed  to  have 
sunk  four  out  of  six  unspecified  craft  northwest  of  Bizerte.  Two  other 
strikes  drew  blood,  one  made  no  sighting,  and  the  last  was  foiled  by  a 
vicious  fighter  attack  just  before  the  bomb  run.  The  B-17  claims  per- 
mitted the  calculation  that  under  favorable  conditions  eighteen  heavies 

187 


THE  ARMY   AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


would  normally  sink  two  vessels  out  of  a  convoy;  but  the  claims  have 
not  been  confirmed  thus  far  on  the  enemy  side.  NAAF's  own  estimate 
of  its  score  against  enemy  ships  in  the  first  month  of  its  existence  ran  to 
twenty  destroyed,  fifteen  badly  damaged,  and  eleven  damaged,  these 
categories  being  austerely  defined. 

Nevertheless,  because  of  considerations  of  time  and  space,  convoys 
did  not  constitute  the  normal  targets  for  B-17's.  The  problem  was  this: 
it  took  two  hours  to  dispatch  the  heavies  once  instructions  were  issued, 
a  half -hour  for  take-off  and  rendezvous,  an  hour  and  a  half  to  the  strait; 
and  in  these  four  hours  the  convoys  could  reach  heavily  defended  areas. 
The  ports,  on  the  other  hand,  always  contained  worthwhile  targets. 
Until  mid-February  the  B-17's  had  attacked  exclusively  ports  of  off- 
loading, but  presently  they  began  visiting  Sicily  and  Sardinia:  Palermo 
on  the  15  th,  Cagliari  on  the  26th  and  28th  of  February.  Not  until  the 
end  of  March  did  it  seem  necessary  to  revisit  Cagliari,  at  which  time 
two  M/V's  were  fired,  four  other  ships  hit,  the  adjoining  railroad 
station  and  seaplane  base  wrecked,  and  nearly  half  the  berths  rendered 
unusable."^**  Enemy  records  show  that  the  Italians  lost  three  ships,  aggre- 
gating 10,000  GRT,  at  Cagliari  on  the  3  ist. 

On  22  March,  twenty-four  B- 17 's  of  the  301st  Bombardment  Group 
achieved  what  Spaatz  considered  to  be  the  most  devastating  single  raid 
thus  far  in  the  war  by  causing  an  explosion  at  Palermo  (felt  at  their 
altitude  of  24,000  feet)  which  blew  up  thirty  acres  of  dock  area,  sank 
four  M/V's,  and  lifted  two  coasters  onto  a  damaged  pier— the  Italians 
wrote  off  six  ships  totaling  10,000  GRT.  Tunisian  ports  still  engaged, 
however,  a  major  part  of  the  heavies'  attention.  Bizerte,  the  busiest,  was 
the  particular  care  of  the  Wellingtons,  but  on  25  February  and  again 
on  23  March  the  B-17's  attacked.  The  continued  flak  build-up  was 
making  accurate  bombing  increasingly  difficult.  During  the  February 
mission,  one  of  the  first  bursts  hit  the  leading  B-17  in  the  region  of  the 
bomb  bay;  an  oxygen  bottle  exploded,  and  when  the  leader  jettisoned 
his  bombs,  several  other  aircraft  dropped  with  him.  Wide  of  the  target, 
some  of  these  bombs  apparently  hit  a  submarine  in  Lake  Bizerte.  Ferry- 
ville  was  badly  damaged  on  24  March.  In  addition  to  a  tug  and  a  mine- 
sweeper, the  B-17's  sank  two  M/V's;  one,  the  Cittd  di  Savona,  unload- 
ing ammunition,  exploded.  La  Goulette,  Tunis,  and  Sousse  all  were 
attacked  in  March.  When  the  Eighth  Army  entered  the  last  named  in 
April,  its  harbor  resembled  nothing  so  much  as  a  nautical  junkyard."^^ 

Extensive  use  of  air  transport  had  long  been  an  Axis  reliance  in  the 

188 


CLIMAX   IN  TUNISIA 


African  war,  in  Egypt  and  Libya  as  well  as  in  Tunisia.  Ju-52's  had 
brought  the  first  Germans  to  Tunisia,  back  in  November;  and  the  serv- 
ice from  Sicily  and  Italy  had  thereafter  flourished— twenty  to  fifty 
daily  back  and  forth  by  the  end  of  1942,  about  a  hundred  landings  daily 
at  Tunis  alone  by  mid-March.  In  the  first  few  days  of  April,  Tunisian 
landings  rose  to  150.  The  Army  had  long  since  concluded  that  the 
enemy  forces  could  not  be  maintained  without  the  Ju-5  2's.^^  • 

Late  in  March  the  enemy  was  using  approximately  500  air  transports 
(Ju-52's,  SM-82*s,  Me-323's)  based  principally  at  airdromes  in  the 
Naples  and  Palermo  areas,  with  some  at  Bari  and  Reggio  di  Calabria. 
Generally,  the  flights  originated  at  Naples  and  proceeded  via  staging 
airdromes  in  Sicily  across  the  strait  to  Tunisia,  where  the  main  termi- 
nals were  Sidi  Ahmed  and  El  Aouina.  Morning  and  afternoon  missions 
were  common,  weather  permitting.  Direct  flights  out  of  Naples  to 
Africa  rendezvoused  with  escort  over  Trapani— about  twelve  fighters 
being  usually  assigned.^^ 

This  traffic  had  long  been  greedily  eyed  by  the  Allied  air;  and  as 
early  as  5  February  the  Eastern  Air  Command  had  developed  plans  for 
242  Group.  Expanded  to  include  XII  Bomber  Command,  the  operation 
—coded  FLAX— was  ready  to  go  when  the  Kasserine  crisis  intervened. 
Allied  Air  Force  canceled  it  on  19  February.''*  Thereafter  the  plan 
underwent  progressive  revisions  and  eventually  became  NASAF's  re- 
sponsibility. The  movement  was  watched  by  radar  and  photo  recon- 
naissance, and  a  mass  of  detailed  information  from  all  sources  was  col- 
lected and  kept  up  to  date,  nothing  being  done,  meanwhile,  to  flush  the 
game.  Fundamentally,  the  plan  involved  P-38  sweeps  over  the  Sicilian 
strait  synchronized  with  an  escorted  shipping  sweep,  while  other 
bombers  and  fighters  struck  at  the  departure  and  terminal  airdromes. 

Early  in  April  the  moment  seemed  ripe:  the  traffic  heavy  enough  to 
permit  crippling  losses,  the  campaign  in  a  stage  when  the  losses  could 
be  least  afforded  and  hardly  made  up.  April  5  provided  the  right 
weather  and  FLAX  was  laid  on,'''* 

At  approximately  0800,  twenty-six  P-38's  on  patrol  over  the  strait 
intercepted  a  mixed  formation  of  fifty  to  seventy  Ju-52's,  twenty 
Me-109's,  six  Ju-87's,  four  FW-190's,  and  one  FW-iSy,  some  appar- 
ently escorting  a  convoy  of  a  dozen  M/V's.  The  action  took  place  a 
few  miles  northeast  of  Cap  Bon  and  resulted  in  two  missing  P-38's  and 
claims  of  eleven  Ju-52's,  two  Me-109's,  two  Ju-87's,  and  the  FW-187 
shot  down.  At  about  the  same  time,  a  B-25  sea  sweep  hit  two  Siebel 

189 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


ferries  and  blew  up  a  convoying  destroyer  while  the  escort— from  the 
Szd  Group— reportedly  knocked  down  fifteen  aircraft  out  of  the  cover. 
The  terminal  fields  were  next  attacked,  Spitfire-escorted  B-17's  hitting 
Sidi  Ahmed  and  El  Aouina  with  frags.  By  noon  the  Sicilian  airdromes 
could  be  expected  to  have  received  arrivals  for  the  second  daily  flight 
to  Tunisia,  and  other  B-17's  accordingly  visited  Boccadifalco  and  Tra- 
pani/Milo  airdromes  while  B-25's  went  to  Borizzo.  The  last  attack  was 
strenuously  opposed—two  B-25's  were  ditched  near  the  Egadi  Islands— 
but  bombers  and  escort  claimed  six  Me-109's.  The  frag  bombing  in 
Sicily  was  excellent  and  the  target  aircraft  were  not  too  well  dispersed. 
The  blow  evidently  disrupted  the  shuttle  service,  for  P-38's  on  patrol 
in  the  afternoon  reported  the  strait  clear  of  transports.  After  carefully 
studying  the  photographs,  NAAF  concluded  that  201  enemy  aircraft 
had  been  destroyed,  all  but  40  on  the  ground,  as  against  3  friendly  air- 
craft lost  and  6  missing.  At  any  rate,  after  the  raids  the  Germans  could 
muster  only  29  flyable  Ju-52's.'^^  The  Luftwaffe  admitted  to  14  Ju-52's 
shot  down,  11  transports  (Me-323's  and  Ju-52's)  destroyed  on  the 
ground,  and  67  transports  damaged.  That  Axis  bomber  and  fighter 
losses  to  FLAX  might  have  been  proportionately  high  is  suggested  by 
the  GAF  complaint  that  its  Sicilian  fields  were  overcrowded  and, 
where  situated  on  the  coast,  unprotected  by  forward  AA.^^ 

Smaller  editions  of  FLAX  were  put  forth  in  succeeding  days.  On 
10  April  a  P-38  sweep  with  a  flight  on  the  deck  and  one  at  1,000  feet 
caught  the  shuttle  coming  into  Tunis:  the  low  flight  claimed  twenty 
transports  and  the  upper  eight  fighters  out  of  the  escort  of  Me-109's 
and  Mc-200's.  Later  that  morning  an  escorted  B-25  shipping  sweep  re- 
portedly knocked  down  twenty-five  aircraft,  twenty-one  of  them 
transports,  most  of  which  burst  into  flames  and  exploded.  Next  day 
two  P-38  sweeps  added  twenty-six  Ju-52's  and  five  escorts  to  the 
mounting  score.^® 

Western  Desert  Air  Force  gave  the  coup  de  grace  to  the  Axis  trans- 
port system.  Around  1 2  April,  when  the  enemy  had  retreated  to  the 
Enfidaville  line  and  his  situation  was  becoming  progressively  more  des- 
perate, he  brought  in  replacements  from  other  theaters  and  resumed 
his  two  convoys  a  day  with  even  heavier  escort.  WDAF,  by  then  based 
in  the  Sousse  area  and  operating  seaward-looking  radar,  was  advan- 
tageously placed  to  interrupt  sea  and  air  transport  in  the  region  of  Cap 
Bon.  It  assigned  a  high  priority  to  the  renewed  traflSc.  Operating  from 

190 


CLIMAX    IN  TUNISIA 


El  Djem,  the  57th  Group  began  its  sweeps  over  Cap  Bon  on  17  April. 
On  18  April  occurred  the  famous  Palm  Sunday  massacre.^® 

At  about  1500  hours  the  Germans  successfully  ran  a  large  aerial  con- 
voy into  Tunisia,  probably  to  El  Aouina  or  La  Marsa.  On  its  way  back, 
flying  at  sea  level  (one  of  the  Americans  described  it  as  resembling  a 
huge  gaggle  of  geese)  with  an  ample  escort  upstairs,  the  formation  en- 
countered four  P-40  squadrons  (57th  Group,  plus  314th  Squadron  of 
the  3  24th  Group)  with  a  top  cover  of  Spitfires.  When  the  affair  ended, 
50  to  70— the  estimates  varied— out  of  approximately  100  Ju-52's  had 
been  destroyed,  together  with  1 6  Mc-202's,  Me- 1 09's,  and  Me- 1  lo's  out 
of  the  escort.  Allied  losses  were  6  P-40's  and  a  Spit.  The  Germans,  who 
admitted  to  losses  of  51  Ju-5  2 's,  worked  intensively  on  the  transports 
which  had  force-landed  near  El  Haouaria,  and  several  of  them  later 
took  off  for  Tunis  despite  Allied  strafing.  Next  day  the  bag  was  dupli- 
cated on  a  smaller  scale  when  12  out  of  a  well-escorted  convoy  of  20 
Ju-5  2 's  were  shot  down.^^ 

Despite  his  staggering  losses  the  enemy  persevered.  Supply  by  sea, 
harried  both  by  air  arid  naval  attacks,  was  not  sufficient  to  sustain  the 
bridgehead,  now  fighting  for  its  life.  The  rate  of  aircraft  landings 
achieved  early  in  April  would  have  transported  a  full  third  of  the 
enemy's  requirements  in  the  last  half  of  the  month.  Fuel  was  partitu- 
larly  short  and  a  decision  was  apparently  taken  to  throw  in  the  big 
Me-3 2 3's  boasting  four  times  the  capacity  of  the  Ju-52's.  This  endeavor 
came  to  an  untimely  end  on  12  April  when  an  entire  Me-323  convoy 
was  destroyed  over  the  Gulf  of  Tunis  by  two  and  a  half  Spitfire  squad- 
rons and  four  squadrons  of  SAAF  Kitty  hawks.  Twenty-one  Me-323's 
were  shot  down,  many  in  flames,  as  well  as  ten  fighters,  for  the  loss  of  four 
Kittyhawks.  With  Allied  fighters,  as  he  put  it,  *'in  front"  of  the  African 
coast,  Maj.  Gen.  Ulrich  Buchholz,  the  Lufttransportfuehrer  Mittel- 
meeVy  gave  up  daylight  transport  operations,  although  he  continued  for 
a  time  with  crewS  able  to  fly  blind  to  send  in  limited  amounts  of  emer- 
gency supplies  by  night.  He  also  developed  an  alternate  route  via  Ca- 
gliari.  Journeying  from  staging  fields  in  Sardinia  in  the  predawn,  to 
avoid  the  fatal  Cap  Bon  area,  the  Ju-52's  sometimes  fell  in  with  Beau- 
fighters  which  NACAF  vectored  out  from  Bone.®^ 

The  disruption  of  the  Axis  air  transport  system  was  hastened  also  by 
effective,  if  less  spectacular,  bomber  action  at  widely  separated  airfields. 
Except  for  the  strike  at  Bari,  NASAF  carried  on  the  whole  of  the  cam- 
paign. The  opener  was  the  B-17  attack  on  Capodichino,  outside  Naples, 

191 


THE  ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


undertaken  the  day  before  the  big  FLAX  effort  and  in  which  half  of 
the  fifty  aircraft  seen  on  the  ground  were  assessed*  as  destroyed  or 
damaged.  During  the  week  of  10-16  April,  Castelvetrano  and  Milo  in 
Sicily  and  Decimomannu,  Monserrato,  Elmas,  and  Villacidro  in  Sar- 
dinia were  given  the  frag  treatment,  the  attack  on  Castelvetrano  on 
13  April  being  particularly  fruitful:  forty-four  aircraft  hit,  including 
three  Me-323's.  In  the  third  week  in  April,  B-17's  and  B-25's  struck  at 
Boccadifalco  (Sicily)  and  Alghero  (Sardinia);  and  towards  the  end 
of  the  month  Grosseto  (Italy)  and  Villacidro  came  under  B-17  attack, 
while  Wellingtons  dropped  on  Decimomannu.  Besides  destroying  Axis 
transports,  these  missions  wrote  off  fighter  and  antishipping  air- 
craft as  well.®^ 

After  the  long  months  of  foul  weather  and  of  shortages  in  P-38  and 
medium  groups,  April  of  1943  found  NASAF  flexing  its  muscles. 
Reinforcements  had  arrived.  A  new  group  of  B-25's  (the  321st)  had 
gone  into  action  in  the  latter  half  of  March,  and  in  April  the  320th 
(B-26's)  began  operations.  The  replacement  situation,  which  had  been 
so  bad  with  the  mediums  that  groups  had  dwindled  to  twelve  crews 
and  morale  had  been  extremely  low,  had  undergone  improvement.®^ 
The  escort  fighters,  viewed  high®*  and  low  in  NASAF  as  the  bombers' 
best  friends,  were  now  comparatively  abundant.  The  325th  Group 
(P-40's)  had  been  transferred  from  NATAF  and  the  rejuvenated  14th 
(P-38's)  was  back  from  rest  and  refitting.®^  Moreover,  two  new  heavy 
groups  had  come  into  the  theater,  the  99th  and  the  2d,  both  beginning 
operations  in  April.®®  (The  99th  broke  in  nicely  with  extremely  accu- 
rate bombing  on  two  of  its  first  missions. ®'')  The  assignment  of  these 
units  to  NASAF  came  as  part  of  a  reshuffling  of  heavy  groups  among 
the  United  Kingdom,  North  Africa,  and  the  Middle  East.®® 

So  strengthened  and  with  tactics  and  jurisdictions  fairly  firm, 
NASAF  carried  on  its  share  of  the  isolation  of  the  bridgehead  with  in- 
creasing success.  Its  mediums  continued  to  scour  the  Sicilian  narrows, 
employing  the  coordinated  medium-  and  low-level  attack,  for  the  latter 
proved  by  far  the  most  effective.  The  B-25's  developed  another  varia- 
tion of  this  technique  by  which  high  and  low  elements  flew  together  at 
less  than  100  feet  until  the  target  was  sighted.  Bombed-up  P-38's  began 
to  be  used  again  (they  had  been  tried  on  antishipping  work  in  Decem- 
ber). After  a  fruitless  mission  on  the  23  d,  on  26  April  a  formation  of 

*  Photo  interpretation  does  not  provide  a  complete  estimate  of  damage  inflicted  on 
aircraft  by  frag  bombs. 

192 


SEQUEL  TO  FLAX:  B-is'S  ATTACK  AXIS  TRANSPORTS 


B>(7  ANTISIIIPPIN6  STRIKE  OFP  BIZERTE 
Above:  Two  Sam  SmmD  Behw  One  Sbip  SoMK 


CLIMAX   IN  TUNISIA 


P-38's,  operating  independently,  scored  against  an  escorted  convoy  of 
Siebel  ferries.  When  escorting  mediums,  four  or  five  P-38's  vi^ould 
carry  bombs.®** 

B-25's  blew  up  a  destroyer  on  5  April;  many  vessels  were  left  in 
flames  in  the  days  from  4  to  16  April  when  the  weather  was  good;  and 
on  the  15th,  P-38's  blew  up  a  large  barge.  During  the  last  week  in 
April,  enemy  shipping  to  Tunisia  increased  sharply  because  of  the 
urgent  need  for  supplies  and  the  infeasibility  of  air  transport.  Although 
bad  weather  favored  the  movement,  NAAF  antishipping  forces  put 
forth  maximum  effort  to  interrupt  it.  P-38's  and  B-25's  performed  well 
in  the  last  three  days  of  April,  but  the  most  successful  of  the  attacks  that 
week  were  credited  to  WDAF's  P-40's  and  Kittybombers.®^ 

The  very  heavy  formations  of  fighters  which  WDAF  put  over  the 
Cap  Bon  approaches  on  the  lookout  for  Ju-52's  and  Me-323's  provided 
almost  continuous  reconnaissance  and  very  little  shipping  escaped 
notice.  The  fighter-bomber  force  kept  in  readiness  at  the  airdromes 
was  often  called  upon.  Accustomed  to  field  targets,  the  fighters  at  first 
achieved  no  very  spectacular  results,  but  they  improved  with  practice. 
On  the  30th  of  April  alone,  WDAF  fighter-bombers  sank  an  escort 
vessel,  a  i  ,000-ton  M/ V,  a  Siebel  ferry,  an  E-boat,  and  an  F-boat.  That 
same  day,  P-40's  and  Kittybombers  scored  a  direct  hit  on  a  German 
destroyer  off  Cap  Bon.  The  DD  zigzagged  desperately  before  it  took 
a  bomb  amidships  which  shook  the  planes  above  with  the  resulting  ex- 
plosion. The  commander  landed  his  dead  and  wounded  near  Sidi  Daoud 
and  complained  that  it  was  no  longer  possible  to  sail  in  the  daytime. 
Sailing  was  little  if  any  better  at  night,  for  the  Royal  Navy  maintained 
dark-to-dawn  destroyer  and  motor  torpedo-boat  patrol.®^ 

The  heavy  volume  of  shipping  to  Tunisian  ports  in  the  first  week  of 
May  was  protected  by  four  days  of  bad  weather.  On  the  6th,  WDAF's 
fighters  blasted  two  destroyers  headed  northeast  off  La  Goulette:  one 
exploded;  the  other,  although  on  fire,  succeeded  in  making  off The 
vigor  of  the  air  blockade  is  evident  from  the  career  of  an  Axis  prison 
ship  which  loaded  on  4  May  at  Tunis  and  anchored  for  three  days  off 
Cap  Bon  before  the  Germans  abandoned  her.  She  was  strafed  by  at  least 
forty  P-40's  and  Kittyhawks,  had  100  bombs  aimed  at  her  (only  one, 
a  dud,  hit).  Luckily,  the  fighters  had  not  perfected  their  art:  only  one 
P/W  was  killed.®^  The  increase  in  Axis  shipping  traced  largely  to  the 
influx  of  Siebel  ferries  and  tank  landing  craft  (F-boats) . 

The  B- 1 7  s  scored  impressive  successes  against  ships  at  sea  on  the  few 

m 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


occasions  when  they  went  out  after  such  targets— four  times  during 
April  and  early  May.  On  the  afternoon  of  23  April,  the  heavies  hit  a 
ship  twenty  miles  west  of  Sicily,  which  patrols  out  of  Malta  reported 
sank  around  midnight  (it  may  also  have  been  torpedoed  by  Malta 
Beauforts).  On  6  April  a  munitions  ship  disintegrated  under  direct  hits; 
and  on  5  May  another  was  heavily  damaged  off  the  northwestern  tip  of 
Sicily,  The  most  celebrated  of  the  heavies'  current  exploits,  however, 
occurred  at  the  La  Maddalena  naval  base  in  northern  Sardinia. 

At  the  beginning  of  April,  the  reduced  Italian  navy  still  contained 
three  heavy  cruisers,  of  which  one,  the  Bolzano,  was  laid  up  for  repairs 
at  La  Spezia.  NAPRW  spotted  the  Trieste  and  Gorizia  at  La  Madda- 
lena anchored  in  coves  and  inclosed  in  antisubmarine  nets.  A  German 
admiral  had  recently  taken  command  of  the  Italian  fleet,  which  event 
could  be  interpreted  as  foreshadowing  for  it  a  more  aggressive  role;  at 
any  rate,  there  seemed  no  harm  in  laying  up  the  rest  of  the  Italian  heavy 
cruiser  force.  NAPRW  worked  overtime  duplicating  the  photographs, 
and  Spaatz  ordered  an  attack  on  the  first  occasion  when  priority  ship- 
ping could  not  be  discovered  in  Tunisian  ports  or  en  route  thereto.  On 
10  April  the  B-17's  pitted  1,000-pound  bombs  (i/io-second  nose  fuze 
and  2  5  -thousandth  in  tail )  against  2  -  to  3  -inch  deck  armor.  Twenty-four 
B- 1 7 's  sank  the  Trieste  from  1 9,000  feet.  Thirty-six  B- 1 7 's  attacked  and 
badly  damaged  the  Gorizia.  The  remaining  twenty-four  bombers 
dropped  on  the  harbor  and  submarine  base.  Although  further  damaged 
by  a  P-38  attack  on  1 3  April,  the  Gorizia  got  away  to  join  the  Bolzano 
at  Spezia,  where  the  RAF  Bomber  Command  promptly  laid  on  a 
night  attack.®^ 

The  brilliance  of  these  attacks  could  not  but  confirm  the  American 
airmen's  faith  that  their  long-time  emphasis  on  high-altitude  daylight 
bombing  had  been  correct.  Spaatz  recorded  in  May  that  the  day-to-day 
operational  premise  at  NAAF  was  that  any  target  could  be  neutralized— 
"even  blown  to  oblivion"— by  high-altitude  onslaught.  Even  well- 
dispersed  aircraft— once  thought  unremunerative  bomber  targets- 
were  far  from  immune  to  B-17's  and  their  cargoes  of  frag  clusters. 
Losses  in  TORCH  had  been  slight.  As  of  2  2  May,  over  a  week  after  the 
Tunisian  finale,  only  twenty-four  B-17's  had  been  lost  in  combat;  and 
of  these  only  eight  were  known  victims  of  enemy  fighters  (the  others 
were  charged  off  to  flak  or  to  causes  unknown) .  The  signal  failure  of 
the  GAF  to  fathom  the  B-17  defense,  of  course,  could  not  be  counted 
upon  indefinitely.  All  of  which  caused  Spaatz  to  regret  that  the  turn  of 

194 


CLIMAX    IN  TUNISIA 


the  wheel  had  not  allowed  the  inception  in  1942  of  a  decisive  bomber 
offensive  against  Germany.®* 

Ports  still  remaining  the  prime  target  of  the  B-i7*s,  the  bombers 
worked  at  them  with  a  vigor  and  intensity  commensurate  with  their 
greater  numbers  and  the  improving  weather.  The  old  milk-runs  to 
Tunis  and  Bizerte  continued,  although  the  importance  of  these  harbors 
had  somewhat  diminished  with  progressive  damage  to  their  facilities 
and  the  tendency  of  E-  and  F-boats  to  discharge  on  the  beaches  of  the 
Gulf  of  Tunis.  Even  merchantmen  were  observed  being  unloaded  by 
lighters  from  offshore  anchorages.  At  one  point  early  in  April  the  lack 
of  significant  shipping  in  Lake  Bizerte  gave  rise  to  hopes  that  the  enemy 
was  concentrating  on  keeping  Tunis  operational;  but,  the  event  proving 
otherwise,  attacks  were  laid  on  Bizerte  and  Ferryville  on  several  occa- 
sions in  April  and  May  and  only  prevented  on  other  occasions  by  bad 
weather.  Ferryville  took  a  fearful  pounding  from  the  B-17's  on  7  April. 
The  most  effective  attacks  against  Tunis  and  La  Goulette  occurred  on 
5  May  when  extensive  damage  accrued  to  port  installations  and  eight 
small  craft  were  sunk  by  the  bombs. 

On  4  April  the  B-17's  first  paid  their  respects  to  Naples,  ninety-one 
of  them  dropping  on  the  port,  the  airdrome,  and  the  marshalling  yards. 
But  the  ports  of  western  Sicily  and,  to  a  lesser  extent,  those  of  southern 
Sardinia  felt  the  heaviest  weight  of  attack  as  the  battle  of  Tunisia  drew 
to  a  close;  in  the  last  weeks  NAAF  was  interested  in  destroying  the 
facilities  which  might  be  used  for  an  evacuation  from  Tunisia.  Three 
B-17  missions  against  Palermo,  on  16,  17,  and  18  April,  evidently  par- 
tially disabled  the  port:  no  major  shipping  was  observed  there  for  the 
rest  of  the  month.  Among  other  damage,  the  seaplane  base  was  dis- 
mantled and  a  190-foot  gap  blown  in  one  of  the  quays.  On  9  May, 
B-17's,  B-26's,  and  B-25's  came  back  in  a  bitterly  contested  attack  in 
which  2 1 1  bomber  sorties  were  flown  and  17  interceptors  were  claimed 
as  destroyed.  A  goodly  number  of  explosions  was  noted.  The  Axis  flak 
proved  unusually  accurate  and  intense,  shooting  down  one  B-17  and 
damaging  no  less  than  fifty  others.  Wellingtons  followed  up  with 
a  night  raid. 

Very  heavy  attacks,  in  which  the  mediums  participated  and  which 
the  Wellingtons  followed  up,  were  also  thrown  at  Marsala  and  Cagliari, 
The  combined  action  of  1 3  May  completed  the  neutralization  of  the 
latter  on  the  same  day  that  the  last  Axis  commander  was  formally  ten- 
dering his  unconditional  surrender  in  Tunisia.  At  that  point  the  total 

19s 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


motor  transport  and  Diesel  fuel  left  in  the  former  bridgehead  amounted 
to  forty  tons.®^ 

Liquidation  of  the  Bridgehead 

In  mid- April  the  enemy  defended  a  restricted,  hill-girt  bridgehead, 
bounded  generally  by  Enfidaville,  Pont-du-Fahs,  Medjez-el-Bab,  and 
Sedjenane,  beyond  which  the  Allies  were  taking  position  for  a  final 
assault.  In  the  east,  the  Eighth  Army  was  facing  up  to  the  Enfidaville 
line;  on  its  left  the  French  XIX  Corps  was  operating  in  the  area  of  Pont- 
du-Fahs;  in  the  center,  the  sector  between  the  French  and  5  Corps  at 
Medjez  had  been  allocated  to  the  British  9  Corps.  At  the  northern  ex- 
tremity, 5  Corps  units  awaited  relief  by  the  American  II  Corps,  which, 
pinched  out  by  the  Eighth  Army's  drive  from  Akarit,  was  swinging 
north  across  the  whole  line  of  communications  of  the  First  Army.  Soon 
to  pass  to  Maj.  Gen.  Omar  N.  Bradley,  II  Corps  ( ist,  9th,  34th  Infantry 
Divisions  and  ist  Armored)  began  taking  over  north  of  Beja  on  12 
April;  twenty  miles  of  rugged  terrain  lay  between  it  and  the  flatlands 
around  the  key  communications  center  of  Mateur.®*^ 

The  5  Corps  had  prepared  Bradley's  way  by  an  offensive  which 
began  on  7  April  with  the  object  of  clearing  the  Medjez-Beja  road. 
Hard  fighting  in  mountainous  country  brought  the  desired  results, 
although  the  abominable  terrain  and  the  appearance  of  the  best  of  the 
available  enemy  reserves  limited  the  territory  won.  By  the  15  th,  the 
British  having  reached  Djebel  Ang,  the  front  was  largely  stabilized  and 
a  few  days  of  comparative  quiet  ensued.®® 

Whatever  the  difficulties  of  the  country  around  Medjez  and  Beja,  it 
was  better  suited  than  the  eastern  sector  for  a  decisive  blow.  The 
mountains  running  from  Zaghouan  into  the  Cap  Bon  peninsula  sealed 
off  Tunis  against  an  attack  from  the  Allied  right:  they  allowed  little 
scope  for  armor  and  could  be  penetrated  only  at  considerable  cost.  The 
brunt  of  the  campaign  now  passed  to  Anderson's  First  Army,  with  5, 
9,  and  XIX  Corps  under  command,  the  Eighth  Army's  role  consisting 
in  exerting  maximum  pressure  to  pin  down  as  many  of  the  enemy 
as  possible.  On  11  April,  Alexander  ordered  Montgomery  to 
send  an  armored  division  and  an  armored  car  regiment  to  reinforce 
First  Army,»» 

The  Eighth  Army's  first  try  at  the  Enfidaville  position  did  nothing 
to  dispel  the  impression  that  it  was  not  a  suitable  avenue  to  Tunis.  The 
attack  jumped  off  the  night  of  19/20  April.  Enfidaville  village  fell  and 

196 


THE   ARMY  AIR   FORCES    IN    WORLD    WAR  II 


patrols  pushed  out  into  the  flat  country  beyond;  but  Takrouna  Hill,  so 
steep  that  the  defenders  had  resorted  to  rope  ladders  to  scale  it, 
occupied  the  New  Zealanders  two  days.  Montgomery  withstood  a 
number  of  counterattacks,  regrouped  for  a  thrust  along  the  coast,  and 
then  decided  that  the  game  was  not  worth  the  candle. The  Eighth 
Army  had  moved  without  the  customary  preparation  by  WDAF,  save 
for  reconnaissance  and  a  few  fighter-bomber  sorties.  The  enemy  posi- 
tions were  well  hidden;  no  vehicle  concentrations  appeared;  besides, 
low  clouds  overhung  the  area.  A  number  of  fighter-bomber  strikes, 
however,  were  laid  on  the  stubborn  Italians  on  Djebel  Garci.  Alto- 
gether (this  was  the  time  of  the  Palm  Sunday  massacre),  the  contempo- 
rary operations  against  air  and  sea  traffic  paid  off  better.^^^ 

The  Ninth  Air  Force  units  operating  with  WDAF  were  by  now  all 
on  the  maritime  plain.  The  57th,  which  had  been  running  patrols  over 
minesweepers  around  Zarzis  and  over  convoys  between  Djerba  and 
Sfax,  moved  into  El  Djem  North  and  later,  on  21  April,  into  Hani 
Main,  six  miles  east  of  Kairouan.  Except  for  a  rear  echelon,  the  12  th 
Group  was  by  1 7  April  at  El  Maou,  outside  Sfax,  near  neighbor  to  a 
newly  arrived  U.S.  medium  group,  the  340th,  which  was  to  begin  inde- 
pendent operations  two  days  later  with  a  raid  against  the  Korba  landing 
ground  on  Cap  Bon.  The  79th  jumped  to  Hani  West  on  the  i8th;  pre- 
viously it  had  been  flying  escort  from  La  Fauconnerie  for  mine- 
sweepers moving  into  Sfax  and  Sousse.^^^ 

Alexander  issued  his  order  on  1 6  April,  and  three  days  later  Ander- 
son, who  had  the  operation  immediately  in  charge,  laid  down  First 
Army  Instruction  37  for  VULCAN.  For  the  main  blow,  5  Corps 
would  strike  along  the  axis  Medjez-Tunis:  first  objective,  the  high 
ground  at  Peters  Corner  and  Longstop  (Djebel  Ahmera) ;  second,  the 
high  ground  near  Massicault  and  El  Bathan.  The  9  Corps  was  to  move 
against  the  highlands  west  of  the  Sebkret  el  Kourzia,  with  the  idea  of 
destroying  the  enemy  armored  reserve  and  of  getting  behind  the  de- 
fenders opposite  5  Corps.  Bradley's  main  attack  was  to  be  delivered 
just  north  of  5  Corps  along  the  Beja-Oued  Tine-Chouigui  axis;  this 
meant  an  excursion  into  the  dominating  hills,  for  the  narrow  Oued 
Tine  valley  offered  facilities  for  mousetrapping  the  American  armor. 
The  reopening  of  the  Robaa-~Pont-du-Fahs  road  constituted  XIX 
Corps'  chief  objective.  D-day  was  set  for  22  April;  9  Corps  would  be 
attacking  in  the  morning,  5  Corps  after  dark,  II  C6rps  the  succeeding 
night,  and  XIX  Corps  when  ordered  by  Anderson.^^® 

198 


CLIMAX    IN  TUNISIA 


NATAF's  undertaking  towards  the  enemy  in  Tunisia  was  fourfold. 
It  would  endeavor  to  destroy  his  air  force;  disrupt  his  supply  hues,  sea 
and  air;  furnish  air  strikes  in  the  battle  area;  and  prevent  his  bringing 
off  a  "Dunkirk."  Except  for  the  battle-area  strikes,  NACAF  and 
NASAF  shared  in  these  functions.  Once  the  enemy  had  abandoned  the 
maritime  plain  for  his  shallow  bridgehead,  no  part  of  which  was  be- 
yond the  reach  of  very  heavy  air  attack,  his  position  had  become 
patently  hopeless  ;^^^  and  the  only  sensible  course  was  evacuation.  The 
Allies  had  perforce  to  make  elaborate  plans  to  deal  with  an  exodus,  the 
Royal  Navy,  NATAF,  NASAF,  RAF  Malta,  and  IX  Bomber  Com- 
mand all  carving  out  spheres  in  which  they  could  employ  their  energies 
to  prevent  any  sizable  number  of  Tunisian  veterans  from  fighting  again 
in  Europe  or  the  Mediterranean  isles.  Doolittle  wrote,  in  language 
reminiscent  of  Churchill's  on  a  less  auspicious  occasion:  "We  plan  to 
strike  them  on  land,  in  the  concentration  area  in  their  harbors  where  the 
larger  boats  will  come,  along  the  coast  where  smaller  craft  will  load, 
and  at  sea."  In  order  to  prevent  Pantelleria  from  sending  planes  to 
cover  an  evacuation,  its  airfield  was  marked  as  a  priority  target^^^  and 
a  series  of  attacks  carried  out  from  8  to  1 1  May.  On  the  first  day  of  the 
exercise  1 20  B-25's  and  other  WDAF  light  bombers  and  1 3  bombed-up 
P-38's  put  the  landing  ground  out  of  action,  destroyed  a  sizable  number 
of  aircraft,  and  damaged  the  doors  at  one  of  the  two  entrances  to  the 
underground  hangar.  The  remaining  attacks  were  mainly  precaution- 
106  ^Yic  event,  no  mass  evacuation  was  attempted  because  it  was 
not  possible.  As  Field  Marshal  Keitel  confirmed  in  1945,  the  Axis  had  in 
Tunisia  the  choice  only  of  resistance  or  surrender.^^^ 

The  fact  that  the  enemy  could  not  move  out  of  fighter  range  of  242 
Group  at  Souk-el-Khemis,  XII  Air  Support  Command  at  Le  Sers,  and 
WDAF  in  the  Kairouan-El  Djem-Hergla  region  (TBF  was  alongside 
242  Group)  made  necessary  close  control  of  the  Allied  air  effort.  The 
area  being  too  small  for  three  fighter  controls  and  too  large  for  one,  XII 
ASC  passed  under  242  Group's  operational  control  for  all  offensive 
action.  This  was  logical  enough  since  the  First  Army  was  the  main 
ground  force  control.  XII  ASC,  however,  retained  its  own  fighter  con- 
trol for  defense  of  its  landing  grounds.  No.  211  Group  operated 
WDAF's  fighter  control.  Moreover,  further  to  prevent  overlapping, 
general  areas  of  responsibility  were  delineated.  WDAF  was  to  cover 
the  Cap  Bon  peninsula  south  to  the  bomb  line  and  west  to  the  Miliane 
River.  Beyond  the  Miliane,  XII  ASC  action  was  to  be  localized,  so  far 

199 


THE   ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


as  possible,  to  the  south  of  the  area  covered  by  242  Group/^®  XII  ASC 
had  expected  to  continue  its  association  with  II  Corps,  but  upon  the 
latter's  move  northward  it  was  found  impracticable  in  the  limited  time 
available  to  reshuffle  airdromes  between  XII  ASC  and  242  Group.  So 
XII  ASC  provided  assistance  to  British  and  French  units  on  its  im- 
mediate front.  In  the  event,  subordination  of  XII  ASC  to  242  Group 
proved  unsatisfactory  in  one  respect.  Land  line  communications  be- 
tween Souk-el-Khemis  and  Le  Sers— thirty-five  miles  to  the  south- 
were  unreliable,  and  in  the  rapidly  changing  situation  towards  the  end 
of  the  campaign,  a  large  part  of  XII  ASC's  potential  went  unused.^^® 

D-day  for  the  ground  forces  was  22  April.  In  accordance  with 
Coningham's  order,^^^  NATAF  began  its  intensive  program  on  the 
night  of  the  1 8th.  Phase  i  was  familiar:  airfields  to  be  bombed  night  and 
day  to  keep  the  enemy  fighters  on  the  defensive,  very  heavy  escort  ac- 
companying, including  a  large  proportion  of  fighters  which  would 
operate  in  a  free  role.  LEO-45's,  Wellingtons,  and  TBF  Bisleys  led 
off  with  strikes  at  the  Sebala  landing  grounds  north  of  Tunis,  the  force 
dropping  delayed-action  bombs  while  night-flying  Hurricanes  waited 
for  any  fighters  that  might  come  up.  Next  morning,  on  the  19th,  A-20's 
and  B-26's  took  up  the  attack  on  the  Sebalas,  and  on  the  20th,  NASAF 
and  NATAF  flew  more  than  1,000  counter-air  sorties  in  support  of  the 
Eighth  Army's  offensive  on  that  day.  Attacks  on  La  Marsa  and  Sidi 
Ahmed  having  begun  the  night  before,  twenty-three  Spitfire-escorted 
B-17's  appeared  over  each  of  these  heavily  defended  airdromes.  Alto- 
gether, sixteen  fields  were  punished  on  the  20th,  four  B-25  missions 
being  flown  against  the  area  between  Tunis  and  Bizerte  which,  especial- 
ly around  Protville,  had  sprouted  numerous  new  landing  grounds  as  the 
enemy  sought  to  hide  and  disperse  his  dwindling  force.  On  this  region 
TBF  also  concentrated  its  effort.  A-20's  with  close  and  free-lance 
escort  maintained  a  shuttle  service  throughout  the  day.  The  escorting 
Spits  kept  bomber  losses  to  two,  neither  apparently  due  to  enemy 
action.  Meanwhile,  since  10  April,  WDAF  had  been  making  the  Cap 
Bon  landing  grounds  its  nightly  concern. 

Although  the  results  were  looked  on  as  generally  good,  the  number 
of  targets,  the  difficulty  in  locating  and  identifying  them,  and  the 
enemy's  extraordinary  dispersal  limited  the  material  effects  of  the 
bombardment.  The  GAF  was  using  over  twenty-five  landing  grounds 
west  of  Tunis  alone,  and  its  fighters,  like  hunted  rats,  were  seldom  to  be 
found  in  the  same  place  twice  running.  Aircraft  were  often  dispersed 

200 


CLIMAX   IN  TUNISIA 


in  pens  as  much  as  i,ooo  yards  from  the  strip.  The  degree  of  dispersal 
and  mobility  achieved  by  the  GAF  doubtless  saved  it  from  annihila- 
tion; but  it  was  plainly  no  way  to  operate  an  air  force. 

A  rainstorm  on  the  night  of  the  20th  obstructed  the  counter-air  pro- 
gram, but  the  ferocity  of  the  attacks  apparently  demonstrated  to  the 
GAF  that  Tunisia-based  planes  were  a  wasting  asset.  By  the  20th, 
Me- 1 09 's  and  FW- 1 90's  were  seeking  the  comparative  safety  of  Sicily. 
Not  all  departed,  for  on  7  May  an  estimated  200  aircraft  still  cleaved  to 
the  bridgehead.  But  when  the  ground  forces  went  forward  on  22  April, 
the  first  part  of  NAAF's  program  was  complete:  local  air  superiority 
had  been  achieved.  Thenceforth,  a  light  scale  of  attack  by  FW-190's, 
which  had  replaced  the  Stukas,  and  special  operations  laid  on  with 
Sicily-based  night  bombers  constituted  the  GAF's  contribution  to  the 
defense.  TBF's  escort  dwindled  until  no  more  than  two  fighters  went 
along  with  the  bombers.  In  essence,  the  Allied  air  forces  were  free  to 
cooperate  with  the  ground  arm.^^^ 

Sensing  the  impending  blow,  on  the  night  of  the  20th  the  Germans 
threw  in  a  spoiling  attack  between  Medjez-el-Bab  and  Goubellat;  but 
it  lost  them  something  over  thirty  tanks  and  scarcely  delayed  the  Allied 
push.  The  9  Corps  struck  north  of  Bou  Arada.  During  three  days  of 
heavy  infantry  fighting  two  British  armored  divisions  passed  through 
and  engaged  enemy  tanks.  By  25  April,  9  Corps  had  won  territory 
enough  to  compel  an  enemy  withdrawal  on  the  left  of  XIX  Corps  sec- 
tor; the  French  thereupon  advanced  eighteen  miles  before  being 
brought  up  short  in  the  foothills  north  of  the  Pont-du-Fahs-Enfidaville 
road.  Through  the  26th,  the  i  and  6  Armoured  had  been  able  to 
knock  out  much  of  the  hostile  armor,  but  the  enemy  shortly  withdrew 
his  tanks  and  resorted  to  mine  fields  and  antitank  screens.  Anderson 
consequently  discontinued  the  attack  and  ordered  two  divisions  back 
to  army  reserve.  Jumping  off  almost  on  schedule  on  the  2 2d,  5  Corps 
bit  into  the  enemy  defenses  at  the  head  of  the  Medjerda  valley.  Ham- 
mering artillery  and  heavy  air  attacks  did  little  to  ease  the  infantry  at 
such  celebrated  fortresses  as  Djebel  bou  Aoukaz  and  Djebel  Ahmera, 
but  by  the  end  of  April,  Anderson  had  got  elbow  room  for  his  armor 
east  of  Medjez.  Moreover,  the  enemy  seemed  about  ripe  for  the 
breakthrough."^ 

In  the  northern  sector  II  Corps  had  moved  out  on  23  April  to  begin 
a  series  of  flanking  operations  against  the  jumbled  and  apparently  inter- 
minable hills  covering  the  Mateur  approaches.  With  the  Corps  Franc 

201 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


d'Afrique  on  its  left,  it  threw  the  weight  of  its  attack  at  the  Oued  Tine 
area,  adjacent  to  the  main  Allied  effort  east  of  Medjez.  The  drive  was 
so  successful  that  by  i  May  the  opposition  was  barely  hanging  onto 
the  hills  protecting  the  flat  land  around  Mateur.  That  night  a  general 
withdrawal  ensued  all  along  the  line;  Mateur  was  given  up  and  a  new  de- 
fense hastily  organized  on  the  Bizerte  approaches  and  in  the  last  hills 
screening  the  Tunis  plain.^^^ 

The  air  attacks  on  22  April  centered  in  the  5  Corps  sector  where 
Longstop,  Ksar  Tyr,  Crich  el  Oued,  and  Ain  el  Asker  suffered  from  the 
attention  of  Bostons  and  A-20's.  B-25's  bombed  a  suspected  headquar- 
ters northeast  of  Pont-du-Fahs,  and  a  number  of  other  attacks  were 
made  in  that  general  region.  Numerous  fighter-bomber  sorties  were 
laid  on  and  an  extensive  schedule  of  sweeps  carried  out  over  the  entire 
battle  area.  On  the  23d  the  program  was  extended  to  the  II  Corps  sector. 
Attacks  occurred  on  the  Mateur  railroad  yards  and  on  the  Beja-Mateur 
road,  while  close  "support"  continued  in  the  Medjez  sector  with  Ksar 
Tyr  receiving  particular  attention.  Weather  confined  the  program  on 
the  24th  to  the  efforts  of  the  fighters.  Throughout  these  operations, 
most  of  the  bombing  had  been  on  pinpoints  in  broken  country,  and  in 
the  circumstances  was  very  accurate.  II  Corps  area,  especially,  did  not 
lend  itself  to  air  action  by  either  side,  and  the  Allied  attacks  fell  mostly 
on  the  Mateur  nodal  point.  A  minor  rainy  season  seriously  reduced  the 
tactical  bombing  effort  on  the  29th  and  30th. 

If,  because  of  the  nature  of  the  battleground,  the  effectiveness  of  the 
Allied  air  attack  had  perhaps  not  been  altogether  proportionate  to  its 
weight,  the  weight  of  enemy  air  attack  had  been  practically  nil.  The 
Anglo-American  troops  already  had  entered  the  period  when,  whether 
massing  at  assembly  points,  moving  wholesale  on  the  roads,  or  advanc- 
ing across  country,  they  need  worry  little  about  danger  from  the  skies. 
At  this  juncture,  the  residual  Axis  fighters  were  urgently  required  to 
escort  shipping  in  the  perilous  waters  of  the  Gulf  of  Tunis,  nor  would 
they  otherwise  have  achieved  much  except  swell  the  NAAF  victory 
columns.  Combats  on  21st  and  23d  April  resulted  in  twelve  enemy 
fighters  destroyed  for  the  loss  of  two.  Enemy  operations  over  the  battle 
area  progressively  diminished  thereafter.  Air  mastery  was  virtually 
complete.  Kuter  believed  that  only  the  onset  of  the  rains  delayed  the 
denouement.^^^ 

By  the  end  of  April  it  was  clear  that  a  breakthrough  in  great  strength 
directly  on  Tunis,  which  Anderson  had  just  failed  to  achieve  the  pre- 
202 


CLIMAX   IN  TUNISIA 


vious  winter,  was  the  key  to  the  entire  Axis  position.  Montgomery  con- 
sidered that  a  major  Eighth  Army  assault  on  the  mountains  would  serve 
no  useful  purpose.  A  successful  II  Corps  blow  at  Bizerte  depended 
upon  strong  supporting  forces  operating  on  the  corps'  southern  flank. 
Moreover,  Anderson  believed  that  the  forces  opposite  the  First  Army 
had  been  readied  for  the  kill  by  the  heavy  fighting  of  the  past  week.  This 
appreciation  governed  the  conference  Alexander  held  with  Mont- 
gomery at  the  latter's  headquarters  on  30  April  and  the  transfer  of  the 
7  Armoured  and  4  Indian  Divisions  and  201  Guards  Brigade  to  the 
Medjez  area.  Lt.  Gen.  B.  G.  Horrocks  also  arrived  to  replace  the 
wounded  9  Corps  commander.  On  3  May,  i8th  Army  Group  issued 
the  order  for  the  operation  which  brought  about  the  sudden  collapse 
of  the  enemy .^^^ 

Anderson  planned  to  throw  9  Corps'  two  infantry  divisions  against 
a  narrow  frontage  south  of  Djebel  bou  Aoukaz;  to  be  exploited  by  two 
armored  divisions,  the  hammer  blow  was  designed  to  break  the  crust  of 
the  Axis  resistance  and  crack  the  inner  defenses  of  Tunis  before  the 
enemy  could  properly  man  them.  The  5  Corps  would  cooperate  by  a 
strong  preliminary  attack  on  Djebel  bou  Aoukaz;  XIX  Corps,  by  mov- 
ing against  the  difficult  terrain  around  Djebel  Zaghouan;  and  II  Corps, 
by  continuing  its  drive  on  Chouigui  and  Bizerte  and  swinging  towards 
Djedeida  to  give  additional  force  to  9  Corps'  assault.  For  the  main  drive, 
an  intensive  artillery  barrage  was  planned  and  NATAF  drew  up  sched- 
ules for  an  unprecedented  weight  of  air  attack,  even  205  Group's  Well- 
ingtons from  distant  Misurata  being  levied  upon  for  the  unnerving  night 
bombing.^^® 

Anderson  feinted  successfully  at  Pont-du-Fahs,  so  drawing  off  the 
2 1  St  Panzer  Division;  and  on  5  May,  5  Corps  took  Bou  Aoukaz.  These 
preliminaries  over,  at^o30o,  6  May,  the  First  Army  artillery  opened  up; 
at  dawn  the  infantry  attacked  on  a  3,000-yard  front,  and  shortly  after- 
ward, the  morning  mist  over  the  Medjerda  valley  having  providentially 
cleared  off,  the  planned  air  program  began.  The  enemy  had  been  given 
a  wakeful  night  by  205  Group's  attacks  in  the  Tebourba,  Djedeida,  and 
Cheylus  areas  and  TBF's  efforts  against  La  Sebala  and  El  Aouina.  The 
morning  was  occupied  with  prearranged  strikes  designed  to  give  depth 
to  the  artillery  barrage  and  concentrated  on  an  area  four  miles  long  by 
three  and  a  half  wide.  Colonel  Terrell's  47  th  Group,  operating  from 
Souk-el-Arba,  crowded  in  a  record  number  of  A-20  missions  before 
0930— against  Bordj  Frendj  and  Djebel  Achour  on  the  axis  of  ad- 

203 


THE   ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  H 


vance.  WDAF  threw  200  sorties  against  Furna  and  St.  Cyprien  and 
fighter-bombers  ranging  the  area  paid  special  attention  to  the  roads. 
Explosions  and  fires  were  dimly  seen  through  clouds  of  smoke  and 
churning  dust.  By  11 00  the  infantry  had  advanced  as  much  as  a  mile  and 
German  resistance  began  to  crack.  The  armor  duly  passed  through 
and  by  nightfall  took  Massicault.  Under  the  climactic  air  and  ground 
effort  the  defenses  of  Tunis  had  fallen  apart.^^^  By  afternoon,  the  ad- 
vance was  so  far  ahead  of  schedule  and  the  situation  so  fluid  that  the 
scale  of  air  effort  was  somewhat  less  than  might  have  been  achieved.  As 
it  was,  over  2,000  sorties  were  laid  on,  1,000  of  them  before  0900. 

The  6th  of  May  also  marked  the  GAF's  last  appearance  in  force. 
Fighters  rising  to  contest  the  air  with  NAAF  paid  a  price  reported  as 
nineteen  for  two.  A  U.S.  Spitfire  group  was  sitting  over  one  field  when 
twelve  Me-109's  attempted  to  get  off— and  the  group  reported  that 
only  three  escaped.  Convinced,  Maj.  Gen.  Karl  Koechy,  command- 
ing the  Tunisian  Luftgau,  decided  that  planes  and  pilots  should  be  sent 
to  safety;  and  on  the  7th  he  avuhorized  airdrome  and  unit  commanders 
to  flee  at  discretion.  Koechy  and  four  other  air  generals  were  later  cap- 
tured, and  generally  the  Luftwaffe  succeeded  in  getting  away  only 
serviceable  aircraft  and  pilots.  Something  over  600  planes— more  than 
the  Twelfth  Air  Force  lost  from  November  through  May— remained 
on  fields  in  the  Tunis,  Bizerte,  and  Cap  Bon  areas  to  attest  the  attrition 
suffered  by  the  Axis  air  f orces.^^^ 

German  resistance  crumbled  away  on  the  7th;  and  in  the  afternoon 
British  armor  entered  Tunis  down  the  Avenue  Gambetta.  At  almost 
the  same  hour,  American  armor  rolled  into  Bizerte,  which  the  Ger- 
mans had  taken  care  to  mine  and  to  booby-trap  profusely.  The  II  Corps 
had  continued  its  advance  without  serious  check,  by  way  of  Djebel 
Cheniti  into  Bizerte,  past  Mateur  and  the  towering  Djebel  Achkel  into 
Ferry ville.  Chouigui  was  also  taken  on  the  7th  and  two  days  later 
British  and  American  elements  met  at  Protville,  isolating  the  Germans 
in  the  hills  around  the  old  battleground  of  Tebourba.  On  the  loth 
the  local  German  commander  asked  for  terms,  and  for  all  practical  pur- 
poses resistance  in  the  II  Corps  area  came  to  an  end.^^® 

The  9  Corps'  armored  units  swung  north  and  south  from  Tunis  to  cut 
the  resistance  into  pockets  and  to  prevent  any  sizable  enemy  force  from 
escaping  for  a  last  ditch  stand  in  the  Cap  Bon  area.  The  enemy  stood  in 
the  hills  back  of  Hammam  Lif  for  a  time,  but  the  6  Armoured  broke 
through  to  Soliman  on  10  May  and  that  night  the  advance  leaped  across 

204 


CLIMAX    IN  TUNISIA 


the  peninsula  to  Hammamet.  The  British  and  French  now  converged 
rapidly  on  the  remains  of  the  Axis  army.  After  being  shelled  from  two 
sides,  a  large  pocket  of  the  Afrika  Korps  surrendered  on  the  i  ith.  Von 
Arnim  was  taken  next  day  at  Ste  Marie  du  Zit,  but  Messe,  the  stubborn 
defender  of  Mareth,  held  out  until  persuaded  by  a  bombing  attack  on 
12  May.  With  his  surrender  on  the  13  th,  organized  resistance  ceased, 
and  TORCH  at  length  was  complete.^^® 

During  the  last  phase,  having  to  contend  with  very  little  hostile  air 
activity,  NAAF  roamed  the  battleground  at  will.  By  8  May  the  enemy 
retained  only  two  landing  grounds,  Menzel-Temime  and  Korba  on  Cap 
Bon.  He  flew  in  the  neighborhood  of  sixty  sorties  on  the  8th,  some  by 
fighters  operating  out  of  Sicily  and  Pantelleria  by  virtue  of  extra  tanks; 
substantially  fewer  on  the  9th;  and  none  at  all  during  the  remainder  of 
the  mop-up.^^^  The  ground  situation  changed  too  rapidly  to  wait  for 
army  calls,  so  the  air  forces  were  charged  with  impeding  the  move- 
ment  of  the  disorganized  Axis  troops.  On  the  8th  the  1 5  th  Panzer  Divi- 
sion, fleeing  south  from  II  Corps,  encountered  7  Armoured  coming 
north  from  Tunis;  it  turned  and  NATAF  hit  it  with  the  fighter-bomb- 
ers. The  division  broke  and  subsequently  surrendered  on  the  loth. 
Fighters  and  tactical  bombers  aided  in  forcing  the  defile  at  Hammam 
Lif;  ranged  over  Cap  Bon  attacking  troops,  vehicles,  and  the  jetties 
which  might  nurture  forlorn  hopes  of  escape;  and  were  available  to  the 
army  commanders  for  use  against  the  isolated  pockets  around  Zaghouan, 
in  which  resistance  flickered  and  finally  went  out/^^ 

AAF  participation  in  the  North  African  campaigns  had  not  come  by 
its  own  choice:  it  sent  units  to  the  Middle  East  because  the  alternative 
was  even  more  distasteful;  it  saw  in  TORCH  a  diversion  from  the 
bomber  offensive  against  Germany.  Yet  in  Africa  the  AAF  mastered  in 
a  short  time  and  at  small  cost  the  basic  principles  of  the  difficult  science 
of  air-ground  cooperation  which  it  was  to  apply  decisively  in  the  over- 
throw of  Fortress  Europe. 

If  these  principles  owed  much  to  the  tutelage  of  the  RAF,  Middle 
East,  they  at  the  same  time  represented  a  doctrinal  emphasis  for  which 
the  AAF  long  had  struggled.  Spaatz,  Kuter,  and  Stratemeyer  relayed 
what  they  saw  in  Tunisia— what  Brereton  and  Craig  had  observed  in 
the  Western  Desert— and  Arnold  saw  to  it  that  the  new  doctrine  went 
"full  ball"  through  the  War  Department. 

Land  power  and  air  power  are  co-equal  and  interdependent  forces;  neither  is 
an  auxiliary  of  the  other.  The  gaining  of  air  superiority  is  the  first  requirement 

205 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

for  the  success  of  any  major  land  operation. . . .  Land  forces  operating  without 
air  superiority  must  take  such  extensive  security  measures  against  hostile  air 
attack  that  their  mobility  and  ability  to  defeat  the  enemy  land  forces  are  greatly 
reduced.  Therefore,  air  forces  must  be  employed  primarily  against  the  enemy's 

air  forces  until  air  superiority  is  obtained  The  inherent  flexibility  of  air 

power  is  its  greatest  asset  Control  of  available  air  power  must  be  centralized 

and  command  must  be  exercised  through  the  air  force  commander  if  this  inherent 
flexibility  and  ability  to  deliver  a  decisive  blow  are  to  be  fully  exploited.  There- 
fore, the  command  of  air  and  ground  forces  in  a  theater  of  operations  will 
be  vested  in  the  superior  commander  charged  with  the  actual  conduct  of 
operations  in  the  theater,  who  will  exercise  command  of  air  forces  through 
the  air  force  commander  and  command  of  ground  forces  through  the  ground 
force  commander. 

Thus  spoke  Field  Manual  100-20  on  21  July  1943. 


206 


SECTION  II 
*********** 


ORIGINS  OF  THE  COMBINED 
BOMBER  OFFENSIVE 


CHAPTER  7 
*********** 


THE  DAYLIGHT  BOMBING 
EXPERIMENT 

WHEN  twelve  B-ifs  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force  attacked 
Rouen  on  17  August  1942,  they  inaugurated  an  experi- 
mental campaign  of  daylight  bombing  which  was  to  cul- 
minate ten  months  later  in  the  Combined  Bomber  Offensive.  AAF  lead- 
ers most  intimately  concerned,  made  soberly  aware  of  the  difficulty 
and  the  significance  of  their  task  by  intensive  study  of  British  and  Ger- 
man experience,  were  prepared  to  devote  their  earliest  combat  mis- 
sions to  testing  American  techniques  and  equipment  in  the  war's  tough- 
est air  theater.  What  they  could  not  then  foresee  was  the  inordinate 
length  of  the  experimental  phase  of  their  program.  Competing  strategic 
poHcies  and  the  chronic  scarcity  of  equipment  and  trained  men,  which 
long  dogged  the  Allied  war  effort,  combined  to  postpone  until  sum- 
mer of  1943  the  launching  of  a  full-scale  bomber  offensive.  With  the 
limited  forces  available  in  the  interim,  the  fundamental  theses  of  stra- 
tegic bombardment  could  hardly  be  given  an  adequate  test.  Hence, 
though  the  early  operations  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force  were  successful 
enough  eventually  to  insure  augmentation  of  forces,  the  most  im- 
mediate significance  of  those  missions  lay  in  the  tactical  lessons  derived 
therefrom. 

The  delay  was  the  more  vexing  because  from  an  early  stage  in  war 
planning  the  bomber  campaign  against  Germany  had  been  conceived 
as  the  first  offensive  to  be  conducted  by  United  States  forces.  In  con- 
versations held  early  in  1941  (ABC-i),  Anglo-American  staff  repre- 
sentatives had  agreed  on  certain  basic  assumptions  which  should  guide 
combined  strategy  if  the  two  nations  found  themselves  at  war  with  the 
European  Axis  and  Japan:  that  the  main  Allied  endeavor  should  be 


209 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


directed  first  against  Germany  as  the  principal  enemy;  that  defeat  of 
Germany  would  probably  entail  an  invasion  of  northwestern  Europe; 
and  that  such  an  invasion  could  succeed  only  after  the  enemy  had  been 
worn  down  by  various  forms  of  attrition,  including  "a  sustained  air 
offensive  against  German  Military  Power,  supplemented  by  air  offen- 
sives against  other  regions  under  enemy  control  which  contribute  to 
that  power."* 

Those  basic  assumptions  had  guided  proposed  deployments  in  the 
operations  plan  (RAINBOW  No.  5)  current  among  the  U.S.  armed 
forces  on  the  eve  of  Pearl  Harbor.  They  had  guided  also  the  AAF's  first 
air  war  plan,  by  virtue  of  which  heavy  claims  had  been  levied  against 
the  nation's  manpower  and  material  resources.  That  plan  (AWPD/i, 
II  September  1941)  had  indeed  subordinated  air  activities  in  all  the- 
aters to  a  protracted  program  of  strategic  bombardment  of  Germany 
on  a  scale  hitherto  unheard  of.  The  early  successes  of  the  Japanese  had 
seriously  challenged  the  practicability  of  adhering  to  those  plans,  but 
in  spite  of  the  necessity  of  dispatching  reinforcements  to  the  Pacific  the 
Combined  Chiefs  of  Staff  had  stood  firmly  upon  previous  agreements. 
Proposals  accepted  in  January  1942  for  early  deployment  of  heavy 
bombers  in  the  United  Kingdom  were  of  necessity  couched  in  modest 
terms,  but  in  mid- April  the  Combined  Chiefs  and  their  respective  gov- 
ernments had  agreed  to  mount  a  cross-Channel  invasion— preferably  in 
spring  1943  (ROUNDUP),  but  if  urgently  required  in  September 
1942  (SLEDGEHAMMER).  Plans  for  the  build-up  of  forces 
(BOLERO)  were  given  high  priority.  With  either  D-day,  the  time 
allowed  for  softening  up  the  enemy  by  bombing  the  sources  of  his 
military  power  would  be  more  limited  than  had  been  contemplated  in 
AWPD/ 1 ;  counter-air  activities  and  air  support  of  ground  operations 
became  in  prospect  relatively  more  important.  Hence,  though 
BOLERO  promised  to  quicken  the  flow  of  AAF  units  to  the  United 
Kingdom,  it  changed  somewhat  the  nature  of  the  force  to  be  deployed 
and,  in  anticipation,  the  character  of  its  mission. 

AAF  plans  to  organize,  equip,  and  base  an  air  force  in  the  United 
Kingdom  were  brought  rapidly  to  maturity.^  The  Eighth  Air  Force, 
activated  in  January  1942  and  committed  to  BOLERO  early  in  April, 
began  its  move  across  the  Atlantic  in  May.  Under  the  leadership  of 

•  Early  developments  of  policy  affecting  the  role  of  the  AAF  in  a  European  war 
have  been  discussed  in  Vol.  I  of  this  history,  passim, 

t  See  especially  Vol.  I,  557-654. 

210 


THE    DAYLIGHT    BOMBING  EXPERIMENT 

Maj.  Gen,  Carl  Spaatz,  the  force  had  been  organized  into  bomber, 
fighter,  composite  (for  training),  and  service  commands.  Under  Brig. 
Gen.  Ira  C.  Eaker  the  VIII  Bomber  Command  (with  which  this  chap- 
ter is  most  intimately  concerned)  had  been  organized  into  three  wings, 
based  in  East  Anglia:  the  first,  under  Col.  Newton  Longfellow,  with 
headquarters  at  Brampton  Grange;  the  second,  under  Col.  James  P. 
Hodges,  at  Old  Catton;  the  third,  under  Col.  Charles  T.  Phillips,  at 
Elveden  Hall.^  Of  the  heavy  bombardment  groups  allocated  to  the 
Eighth  Air  Force,  only  one,  the  97th,  had  become  operational  by  17 
August,  but  others  were  in  training,  at  staging  areas,  and  en  route  from 
the  United  States.  Early  in  July,  AAF  Headquarters  had  estimated  the 
BOLERO  build-up  of  air  units  by  31  December  1943  at  137  groups, 
including  74  bombardment  groups  (41  heavy,  15  medium,  13  dive,  and 
5  light) ,  3 1  fighter  groups,  1 2  observation  groups,  1 5  transport  groups, 
4  photo  groups,  and  i  mapping  group.  Arrangements  had  been  effected 
with  the  British  to  provide  127  airdromes  and  such  other  installations 
as  would  be  required  for  an  air  force  expected  ultimately  to  constitute 
fully  half  the  projected  combat  group  strength  of  the  AAF.^ 

By  the  beginning  of  August  1942,  BOLERO  plans  had  been  thrown 
into  a  state  of  grave  uncertainty  by  the  decision  to  undertake  an  early 
invasion  of  North  Africa.  This  meant  an  indefinite  postponement  of 
the  cross-Channel  push  and  the  diversion  to  TORCH,  as  the  new 
venture  was  called,  of  much  of  the  air  power  previously  allocated  to^ 
BOLERO.  The  bomber  offensive  against  Germany  was  not  eliminated 
from  Allied  strategy— operations  of  the  RAF  Bomber  Command  went 
uninterruptedly  along— and  the  new  timetable,  by  postponing  the  con- 
tinental invasion  until  probably  1944,  coincided  more  accurately  than 
the  BOLERO  plans  with  previous  AAF  thought.  But  with  TORCH 
the  Eighth  Air  Force  had  suffered,  in  anticipation,  a  heavy  loss.  This 
was  the  second  blow  within  a  week.  Late  in  July  it  had  been  decided 
that  AAF  commitments  to  BOLERO  would  be  readjusted  in  favor  of 
the  Pacific  war.  There  were  those,  especially  in  the  U.S.  Navy,  who 
argued  with  some  cogency  and  much  energy  that  the  chief  weight  of 
American  arms  should  be  thrown  first  against  Japan,  and  under  the 
circumstances  the  immediate  reallocation  of  fifteen  groups  from 
BOLERO  to  the  Pacific  had  to  be  viewed  as  a  temporary  compromise 
rather  than  as  a  final  settlement  of  the  dispute.  In  the  face  of  these 
diversions,  fulfilment  of  the  ambitious  plans  of  the  AAF  for  its  bomber 
offensive  would  mean  a  top  priority,  possibly  even  an  overriding  prior- 

21 1 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

ity,  for  the  production  of  airplanes,  especially  of  heavy  bombers. 
Already  in  1942  the  eventual  limits  of  American  productive  capacity 
could  be  fairly  gauged,  and  such  a  priority  would  conflict  seriously 
with  programs  considered  essential  by  the  Army  Ground  Forces  and 
the  Navy,  both  of  which  had  behind  them  the  force  of  military  tradi- 
tion. Thus  the  fate  of  the  American  bomber  offensive  involved  most 
difficult  problems  of  strategy  and  logistics.  For  the  Eighth  Air  Force 
there  was  a  tactical  problem  as  well,  and  on  its  solution  hinged  much  of 
the  answer  to  the  broader  issues. 

The  problems  could  be  more  simply  stated  than  answered.  Could 
Anglo-American  bomber  forces  strike  German  production  forces  often 
enough  and  effectively  enough  to  make  the  eventual  invasion  appre- 
ciably less  costly?  Could  the  forces  required  be  provided  without  un- 
duly hampering  air  activities  elsewhere  and  the  operation  of  the  other 
arms  in  any  theater?  Could  the  bomber  campaign  be  conducted  effec- 
tively within  acceptable  ratios  of  losses?  For  those  questions  the  RAF 
had  answers  which,  if  not  conclusive,  were  founded  upon  experience. 
Their  bombing  of  industrial  cities  had  in  recent  attacks  wrought  great 
destruction;  they  had  secured  a  favorable  position  for  the  heavy  bomb- 
er in  the  allocation  of  production  potential;  and  in  their  night  area 
bombing  they  had  learned  to  operate  without  prohibitive  losses. 

The  Eighth  Air  Force,  as  yet  without  experience,  had  no  answers. 
The  basic  concept  of  a  combined  bomber  offensive  presumed  com- 
plementary operations  of  RAF  night  bombers  and  AAF  day  bombers. 
American  doctrine  called  for  the  destruction  of  carefully  chosen  ob- 
jectives by  daylight  precision  bombing  from  high  altitudes.  Whether 
those  techniques  could  be  followed  effectively  and  economically  in  the 
face  of  German  flak  and  fighter  defenses  and  under  weather  conditions 
prevailing  in  northwestern  Europe  remained  to  be  proved.  Many  in  the 
RAF  were  politely  skeptical;  Eighth  Air  Force  leaders  were  guardedly 
optimistic.  But  the  problem  was  crucial:  upon  its  successful  solution 
hung  the  fate  of  the  Eighth's  participation  in  the  combined  offensive 
and  of  the  Eighth's  claim  to  a  heavy  share  of  the  forces  later  available. 
So  it  was  that  the  tiny  force  of  B-iy's  which  struck  at  the  Rouen- 
Sotteville  marshalling  yard  on  17  August  was  watched  with  an  inten- 
sity out  of  all  proportion  to  the  intrinsic  importance  of  the  mission.* 
So  it  was  too  that,  in  the  months  which  followed,  Eighth  Air  Force 
officers  continued  to  experiment,  weighing  as  carefully  as  they  might 

•  See  Vol.  I,  655-^. 
212 


THE   DAYLIGHT    BOMBING  EXPERIMENT 

the  evidence  provided  by  combat  missions  and  trying  desperately  to 
overcome  difficulties  which  stemmed  in  no  inconsiderable  part  from 
the  attenuated  size  of  their  force. 

Controls  and  Target  Selection 

Whatever  uncertainties  may  have  faced  the  Eighth  Air  Force  in 
August  1942,  its  leaders  were  anxious  to  get  available  bomber  units  into 
action  at  the  earliest  opportunity.  The  general  mission  had  for  the 
moment  been  clarified.  As  late  as  2 1  July,  Eisenhower,  as  theater  com- 
mander, had  defined  the  task  of  the  Eighth  in  terms  of  the  contemplated 
invasion  of  the  continent— to  achieve  air  supremacy  in  western  France 
and  to  prepare  to  support  ground  operations.  TORCH  had  outmoded 
that  directive.  By  the  first  of  August,  Eaker  could  describe  the  job  of 
his  VIII  Bomber  Command  as  the  destruction  of  carefully  chosen  stra- 
tegic targets,  with  an  initial  "subsidiary  purpose"  of  determining  its 
''capacity  to  destroy  pinpoint  targets  by  daylight  accuracy  bombing 
and  our  ability  to  beat  off  fighter  opposition  and  to  evade  antiaircraft 
opposition."  To  accomplish  these  general  objectives  it  was  necessary 
to  establish  a  definite  system  of  operational  control  which  would  mesh 
AAF  and  RAF  efforts  and  to  determine  specific  target  systems  appro- 
priate to  the  U.S.  forces  at  hand. 

Although  the  Eighth  Air  Force  was  established  within  the  normal 
chain  of  command  in  the  ETO,  its  bombing  policy  was  supposed  to 
originate  with  the  Combined  Chiefs  of  Staff,  who  were  to  issue  the  nec- 
essary strategic  directives  through  the  Chief  of  Staff,  U.S.  Army.^  For 
all  practical  purposes,  however,  such  policy  was  left  during  this  period 
to  American  commanders  in  the  United  Kingdom,  who  worked  in 
closest  cooperation  with  the  appropriate  RAF  authorities.  Much  of  the 
success  of  that  cooperation  derived  from  friendly  personal  relations 
between  the  two  forces;  the  most  formal  definition  of  their  mutual 
responsibilities  consisted  of  the  Joint  American/British  Directif  on 
Day  Bomber  Operations  Involving  Fighter  Cooperation,  dated  8  Sep- 
tember 1942.*  Worked  out  by  the  RAF  and  General  Spaatz,  this  docu- 
ment, as  its  title  suggests,  had  been  evoked  by  the  Eighth*s  current 
dependence  upon  British  fighter  escort. 

Declaring  that  the  aim  of  daylight  bombing  was  "to  achieve  con- 
tinuity in  the  bombing  offensive  against  the  Axis,''  the  directive  laid 
responsibility  for  night  bombing  on  the  RAF,  for  day  bombing  on  the 

•  For  full  text,  see  Vol.  I,  608-9. 

213 


THE  ARMY   AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


Eighth,  which  should  accompHsh  its  mission  "by  the  destruction  and 
damage  of  precise  targets  vital  to  the  Axis  war  effort.''  The  daylight 
offensive  was  to  develop  in  three  phases  marked  successively  by  the 
increasing  ability  of  the  American  force  to  provide  its  own  fighter 
escort  and  to  develop  tactics  of  deep  penetration.  In  the  first  phase, 
where  the  RAF  would  furnish  most  of  the  fighter  support,  targets 
would  be  limited  to  those  within  tactical  radius  of  the  short-range 
British  fighters.  As  more  U.S.  fighters  became  available,  they  would 
provide  direct  support  while  the  RAF  flew  diversionary  sweeps  and 
gave  withdrawal  support.  Eventually  the  AAF  would  take  over  most 
of  the  task,  requesting  aid  when  necessary.  Practical  measures  for  con- 
trol were  described.  During  the  first  phase— with  which  this  chapter  is 
concerned—the  commanding  general  of  VIII  Bomber  Command  was 
to  initiate  offensive  operations,  making  preliminary  arrangements  for 
fighter  support  with  the  commander  of  VIII  Fighter  Command,  who 
in  turn  would  consult  his  British  opposite  number  for  detailed  plans  and 
assignment  of  forces. 

Target  selection,  as  periodically  reviewed  "within  the  existing  strat- 
egy," was  to  be  the  responsibility  of  the  commanding  general  of  the 
Eighth  Air  Force  and  the  assistant  chief  of  Air  Staff  for  operations 
(British).  To  coordinate  planning  effectively,  provision  was  made  at 
Spaatz'  suggestion  for  regular  meetings  between  the  American  com- 
mand and  the  British  Air  Staff.  Meeting  first  at  the  Air  Ministry  on  2 1 
August,  this  group  subsequently  bore  the  cumbersome  title  of  Commit- 
tee on  Coordination  of  Current  Air  Operations.  In  all,  sixteen  meetings 
were  held  between  21  August  and  5  February  1943— at  weekly  inter- 
vals before  December,  thereafter  only  as  required.  Thus  the  establish- 
ment of  target  priorities  and  the  selection  of  particular  targets,  though 
primarily  tasks  for  the  Eighth  Air  Force,  were  subject  to  constant 
review  in  terms  of  over-all  Allied  strategy  and  of  RAF  operations. 
Among  other  advantages,  this  insured  the  AAF  access  to  RAF  target 
intelligence,  still  indispensable  to  the  Americans.  In  addition  to  this 
liaison  machinery  at  the  air  staff  level,  provision  was  made  also  for 
closest  coordination  between  staff  officers  of  VIII  Bomber  Command 
and  RAF  Bomber  Command,  and  Eaker  made  it  a  point  to  attend  the 
operational  conferences  of  the  latter  organization  at  Southdown.* 

Meanwhile,  actual  target  systems  for  the  earliest  phase  of  the  offen- 
sive were  being  selected.  VIII  Bomber  Command  had  received  its  first 
bombing  directive  early  in  August.  The  Eighth  Air  Force  had  declared 

214 


THE    DAYLIGHT    BO  M  B  I  N  G  EXPERIMENT 

as  its  general  aim  destruction  of  the  enemy's  will  and  ability  to  wage 
war.  Since  his  will  to  fight  at  present  depended,  it  was  thought,  upon 
the  success  of  his  land  armies  and  of  his  submarine  campaign,  the  day- 
light bombing  effort  should  be  directed  against  ( i )  the  factories,  sheds, 
docks,  and  ports  in  which  he  built,  nurtured,  and  based  his  U-boats, 

(2)  his  aircraft  factories  and  other  key  munitions  establishments,  and 

(3)  his  lines  of  communication.  By  14  August  this  program  had  re- 


ceived additional  refinement  and  some  alteration.  Daylight  bombing 
objectives  were  then  divided  into  two  categories:  a  general  objective 
which  might  be  attacked  anywhere  in  Europe  with  cumulative  results; 
and  a  series  of  precise  targets  which  could  be  attacked  only  when  con- 
ditions were  favorable  but  which,  if  destroyed,  would  seriously  affect 
the  German  war  effort.  The  rail  transportation  system  constituted  the 
general  objective.  Precision  objectives,  in  order  of  priority,  were 
fighter-plane  assembly  plants,  Ruhr  power  plants,  and  submarine 
installations.'*  Then  on  25  August,  in  accordance  with  a  decision 
reached  in  the  commanders'  meeting  on  the  previous  day,  Spaatz  issued 
to  VIII  Bomber  Command  a  list  of  specific  targets,  all  in  occupied 
France  or  the  Low  Countries.  First  priority  was  given  to  aircraft  fac- 

215 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

tories  and  repair  depots,  next  came  marshalling  yards,  then  submarine 
installations.  Some  miscellaneous  targets  previously  authorized  for 
attack,  such  as  the  Ford  and  General  Motors  plants  at  Antwerp,  re- 
mained eligible.^ 

This  list,  except  for  the  subsequent  removal  of  the  Antwerp  plants, 
appears  to  have  governed  operations  of  the  Eighth  until  20  October 
1942.  It  differed  radically  from  that  which  had  been  suggested  a  year 
earlier  in  AWPD/i.  Some  changes  from  that  previous  plan  were  to  be 
expected  as  the  tactical  situation  fluctuated,  but  to  no  small  degree  the 
actual  choice  of  targets  in  August  was  determined  by  the  current  weak- 
ness of  the  force.  The  tactical  radius  of  RAF  fighters  limited  the  choice 
to  objectives  on  or  near  the  European  coast.  Missions  of  shallow  pene- 
tration offered  an  excellent  opportunity  for  the  fledgling  air  force  to 
find  its  wings,  but  the  fact  that  those  objectives  lay  wholly  in  friendly 
occupied  countries  was  to  raise  political  problems  of  some  delicacy. 

The  First  Fourteen  Missions 

The  first  mission  had  been  flown  by  Fortresses  and  crews  of  the 
97th  Group  from  its  East  Anglian  base  at  Polebrook.*  The  nervous 
tension  common  to  a  maiden  effort  had  been  heightened  by  repeated 
postponement  of  the  mission,  and  when  the  little  force  of  B-17's  finally 
bombed  their  first  target  without  loss  and  with  greater  accuracy  than 
had  been  expected  from  green  crews  the  event  did  much  to  raise  the 
morale  of  American  airmen  of  all  echelons. 

The  second  mission,  flown  two  days  later,  did  nothing  to  diminish 
that  warm  feeling  of  accomplishment.  On  the  19th,  B-17's  of  the  97th 
Group  (this  time  twenty-four  of  them)  made  an  attack  on  the  Abbe- 
ville/Drucat  airdrome.  The  mission  had  been  planned  as  part  of  the 
air  operations  undertaken  in  connection  with  the  Dieppe  raid.  Accord- 
ing to  Air  Marshal  Sir  Trafford  Leigh- Mallory,  it  appeared  "that  the 
raid  on  Abbeville  undoubtedly  struck  a  heavy  blow  at  the  German 
fighter  organization  at  a  very  critical  moment  during  the  operations" 
and  thus  "had  a  very  material  effect  on  the  course  of  the  operations."'' 
RAF  fighter  pilots  flying  over  the  airdrome  on  the  day  following  the 
attack  reported  the  main  dispersal  area  to  have  been  apparently  "com- 
pletely demolished."  Subsequent  reconnaissance  indicated  somewhat 
less  cataclysmic  devastation.® 

It  was  not  until  Mission  9,  on  5  September  1942,  that  VIII  Bomber 

*  For  a  full  discussion,  see  Vol.  I,  661-68. 

216 


THE   DAYLIGHT   BOMBING  EXPERIMENT 

Command  again  equaled  the  force  sent  out  on  19  August.  Meanwhile, 
light  missions  were  flown  to  targets  consisting  of  the  Longueau  mar- 
shalling yards  at  Amiens,  a  vital  focal  point  in  the  flow  of  traffic  be- 
tween France  and  northern  Germany;  the  Wilton  shipyard  in  the  out- 
skirts of  Rotterdam,  the  most  modern  shipyard  in  Holland  and  one 
employed  to  capacity  by  the  Germans  for  servicing  surface  vessels  and 
submarines;  the  shipyard  of  the  Ateliers  et  Chantiers  Maritime  de  la 
Seine,  at  Le  Trait;  the  well-equipped  airplane  factory  of  Avions  Potez 
at  Meaulte,  an  installation  used  extensively  by  the  enemy  as  a  repair 
depot  for  the  near-by  fighter  base;  and  the  Courtrai/Wevelghem  air- 
drome, a  base  for  Luftwaffe  FW-190  fighters.  All  lay  within  easy 
fighter  range  and  required  at  most  only  shallow  penetration  of  enemy- 
occupied  territory.* 

These  six  missions  followed  the  pattern  laid  down  by  the  preceding 
two.  The  B-17's  flew  under  heavy  fighter  escort,  provided  largely  by 
the  RAF,  and  bombed  at  altitudes  from  2  2,000  to  26,000  feet  in  circum- 
stances of  generally  excellent  visibility.  They  encountered  for  the 
most  part  only  slight  enemy  opposition.  No  B-i7*s  were  lost.  On  21 
August,  however,  during  an  unsuccessful  attempt  to  bomb  the  Wilton 
shipyard  the  bombers  had  a  brisk  battle  with  enemy  aircraft.^^  They 
were  sixteen  minutes  late  for  their  rendezvous  with  the  RAF  fighter 
escort,  and  as  a  result  the  escort  was  able  to  accompany  them  only  half- 
way across  the  Channel.  The  bomber  formation  received  a  recall  mes- 
sage, but  by  that  time  it  was  over  the  Dutch  coast.  While  unescorted  it 
was  attacked  by  twenty  to  twenty-five  Me- 1 09's  and  FW- 1 90's.  A  run- 
ning fight  ensued  which  lasted  for  twenty  minutes,  during  which  time 
both  the  pilot  and  co-pilot  of  one  B-17  were  wounded,  the  co-pilot  so 
seriously  that  he  died  soon  after.  The  gunners  claimed  two  enemy 
fighters  destroyed,  five  probably  destroyed,  and  six  damaged.  It  was 
the  first  time  the  Fortresses  had  been  exposed  to  concerted  fighter 
attack  without  the  protection  of  friendly  aircraft,  and  the  results  must 
have  impressed  the  enemy  pilots  with  the  ability  of  the  Fortress  to  de- 
fend itself." 

Bombing  accuracy  continued  to  be  good  for  inexperienced  crews. 
In  each  case  enough  high-explosive  and  incendiary  bombs  fell  in  or 
near  the  target  areas  to  prompt  General  Eaker  to  predict  that  in  the 
future  40  per  cent  might  be  expected  to  fall  within  a  radius  of  500  yards 
from  the  aiming  point.^^  These  half-dozen  missions  demonstrated,  how- 
ever, that  bombing  which  could  be  considered  fairly  accurate  might 

217 


THE  ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD  WAR  II 

not  produce  a  corresponding  measure  of  damage  to  the  target.  On  the 
mission  to  Le  Trait,  for  example,  although  twelve  bombs  out  of  a  total 
of  forty-eight  dropped  were  plotted  within  500  yards  of  the  aiming 
point,  no  material  damage  was  apparently  done  to  the  shipyard  installa- 
tions themselves.  Again  in  the  attack  on  the  Potez  aircraft  factory,  ten 
craters  were  made  which  paralleled  the  target,  close  enough  to  it  to  be 
considered  fairly  accurate  but  far  enough  to  land  harmlessly  in  open 
fields.^^ 

In  Mission  9  the  American  bombers  again  struck  at  the  Rouen-Sotte- 
ville  marshalling  yard.  The  force  was  the  largest  yet  dispatched.  Thir- 
ty-seven B-17's  took  oflF,  twenty-five  from  the  97th  Group  and  twelve 
from  the  301st,  the  latter  on  their  first  combat  mission.  Thirty-one 
planes  bombed  the  target  (the  locomotive  depot),  the  other  B-17's 
being  unable  to  drop  their  bombs  on  account  of  mechanical  failures. 
The  bombers  met  little  enemy  opposition,  although  the  RAF  fighters 
supporting  were  challenged  by  a  few  FW-190's.^^ 

A  large  percentage  of  the  bombs,  almost  one-fifth  of  the  high-explo- 
sive bombs  dropped,  burst  within  the  marshalling  yard  installations.^'^ 
Photo  reconnaissance  made  almost  a  month  later,  on  2  October,  indi- 
cated that,  while  practically  the  entire  damage  to  the  running  lines 
throughout  the  yards  had  been  repaired,  the  transshipment  sheds  and 
the  locomotive  depot  were  in  very  restricted  operation.  On  8  August, 
forty  locomotives  had  been  observed  on  the  tracks  around  the  latter; 
now  only  eighteen  could  be  detected.^^ 

To  the  local  French  population  the  success  of  the  mission  appeared 
less  conclusive  than  it  had  to  observers  in  the  United  Kingdom.  A  large 
number  of  bombs  had  in  fact  fallen  outside  the  marshalling  yards, 
many  of  them  in  the  city  itself,  and  several  far  enough  from  the  target 
to  seem  to  a  ground  observer  to  have  borne  little  relation  to  any  precise 
aiming  point.  As  many  as  140  civilians,  mostly  French,  had  been  killed, 
and  some  200  wounded.^^  One  bomb,  fortunately  a  dud,  was  reported 
to  have  hit  the  city  hospital,  penetrating  from  roof  to  cellar.^® 

Beginning  with  the  tenth  mission  on  6  September,  VIII  Bomber 
Command  encountered  greatly  increased  fighter  opposition.  Indeed  it 
was  during  that  day's  operations  over  occupied  France  that  the  com- 
mand suffered  its  first  loss  of  aircraft  in  combat.  Hitherto  it  had 
appeared  that  the  B-17's  bore  charmed  lives;  but  then  the  enemy 
attacks  had  been  light  in  weight  and  tentative  in  character.  From  now 

218 


THE   DAYLIGHT   BOMBING  EXPERIMENT 

on,  the  Fortresses  had  a  chance  to  show  what  they  could  do  in  the  face 
of  relatively  heavy  and  persistent  fighter  resistance. 

On  6  September,  heavy  bombers  of  the  97th  Group,  augmented  to 
a  strength  of  forty-one  by  elements  from  the  newly  operational  926 
Group,  were  sent  out  again  to  strike  the  Avions  Potez  aircraft  factory 
at  Meaulte.  In  order  to  keep  enemy  fighters  on  the  ground  and  provide 
a  diversion  for  the  main  force,  thirteen  B-17's  of  the  301st  Group 
attacked  the  German  fighter  airdrome  at  St.  Omer/Longuenesse.  Simi- 
larly, twelve  DB-7's  of  the  15  th  Bombardment  Squadron  (L)  attacked 
the  Abbeville/Drucat  airdrome.^^  In  spite  of  these  diversionary  efforts, 
all  crews  on  the  primary  mission  reported  continuous  encounters  from 
the  French  coast  to  the  target  and  from  the  target  back  to  the  French 
coast.  As  a  result  of  perhaps  forty-five  to  fifty  encounters,  mostly  with 
FW-190's,  the  B-17  crews  claimed  several  enemy  aircraft  destroyed  or 
damaged.  Two  of  the  heavy  bombers  failed  to  return.  Many  encoun- 
ters also  took  place  between  FW-190's  and  the  supporting  RAF  fight- 
ers.^** The  bombing  at  Meaulte  seems  to  have  suffered  little  in  accuracy 
from  the  distracting  fighter  attacks,  for  it  was,  if  anything,  more  accu- 
rate than  on  the  previous  attack  against  the  same  target  and  probably 
more  effective.^^ 

A  similarly  bitter  aerial  battle  resulted  when,  on  7  September,  a  force 
of  twenty-nine  B-17's  made  an  attack  on  the  Wilton  shipyard  near 
Rotterdam,  the  ineffectiveness  of  which  resulted  from  adverse  weather 
rather  than  from  enemy  action.  Again  the  claims  registered  by  the 
bomber  crews  were  surprisingly  high:  twelve  destroyed,  ten  probably 
destroyed,  and  twelve  damaged.^^  Even  discounting  the  optimistic  sta- 
tistics of  the  gunners,  it  seemed  evident  that  the  Fortresses  could  take 
care  of  themselves  in  a  surprisingly  competent  fashion. 

Gunners  did  not  again  have  the  opportunity  to  test  their  ability 
until  2  October.  Meanwhile,  persistently  bad  weather,  together  with  a 
directive  ordering  all  combat  activity  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force  to  take 
second  place  to  the  processing  of  units  destined  for  North  Africa,  had 
discouraged  further  operations.^^  On  2  October,  thirty-two  B-17's 
bombed  the  Avions  Potez  factory  at  Meaulte  for  the  third  time,  while 
six  of  the  heavies  attacked  the  German  fighter  airdrome  at  St. 
Omer/Longuenesse  for  the  second  time.  All  bombers  returned  but  they 
met  constant  and  stubborn  fighter  opposition.  So  many  encounters  took 
place  that  crews  had  to  be  interrogated  a  second  time  and  even  then  the 
claims  registered  were  considered  too  high.^^  This  aerial  battle  was  all 

219 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


the  more  remarkable  because  the  heavy  bombers  had  flown  under  the 
cover,  direct  or  indirect,  of  some  400  fighter  aircraft,  in  spite  of  which 
the  Germans  had  been  able  to  drive  home  their  attacks  on  the  bombers. 
Whatever  damage  was  inflicted  on  the  aircraft  repair  and  airdrome 
facilities—and  several  direct  hits  were  scored—was  swallowed  up  in  the 
enthusiasm  engendered  by  the  remarkable  defensive  power  displayed 
by  the  Fortresses.^^ 

The  day  bombing  campaign  reached  a  minor  climax  in  the  mission 
against  Lille  on  9  October.  It  was  the  first  mission  to  be  conducted  on 
a  really  adequate  scale  and  it  marked,  as  it  were,  the  formal  entry  of 
the  American  bombers  into  the  big  league  of  strategic  bombardment. 
Then,  for  the  first  time,  the  German  high  command  saw  fit  to  mention 
publicly  the  activities  of  the  Flying  Fortresses,  although  they  had 
already  made  thirteen  appearances  over  enemy  territory.  Lille's  heavy 
industries  contributed  vitally  to  German  armament  and  transport.  The 
most  important  of  these  industries,  the  steel  and  engineering  works  of 
the  Compagnie  de  Fives-Lille  and  the  locomotive  and  freight  car  works 
of  the  Ateliers  d'Hellemmes,  constituted  one  composite  target.^® 

The  mission  had  been  planned  on  an  unprecedented  scale.  One  hun- 
dred and  eight  heavy  bombers,  including  twenty-four  B-24's  from  the 
newly  operational  93d  Group,  were  detailed  to  attack  the  primary 
target  at  Lille,  and  seven  additional  B-17's  flew  a  diversionary  sweep 
to  Cayeux.  Of  the  aircraft  dispatched,  sixty-nine  attacked  the  primary 
target;^^  two  bombed  the  alternative  target,  the  Courtrai/Wevelghem 
airdrome  in  Belgium;  six  attacked  the  last  resort  target,  the  St.  Omer 
airdrome;  two  bombed  Roubaix;  and  thirty-three  (including  fourteen 
of  the  B-24's)  made  abortive  sorties.  Approximately  147  tons  of  500- 
pound  high-explosive  bombs  and  over  8  tons  of  incendiaries  fell 
on  Lille.=^» 

The  bombing  this  time  did  not  demonstrate  the  degree  of  accuracy 
noticeable  in  some  of  the  earlier  and  lesser  efforts.  Of  588  HE  bombs 
dropped  over  Lille,  only  9  were  plotted  within  1,500  feet  from  the 
aiming  points.  Many  fell  beyond  the  two-mile  circle,  some  straying 
several  miles  from  the  target  area.^^  The  errors  may  be  explained  in  part 
by  the  fierce  fighter  attacks  sustained  by  the  bombers  over  the  target, 
but  they  no  doubt  also  owed  much  to  the  inexperience  of  at  least  two 
of  the  groups  participating.^*'  A  large  proportion  of  the  bombs  fell  on 
the  residences  surrounding  the  factory  at  Fives-Lille.  Civilian  casual- 
ties were  placed  by  a  ground  observer  at  forty  dead  and  ninety 

220 


THE   DAYLIGHT   BOMBING  EXPERIMENT 


wounded.®^  Ground  intelligence  sources  also  reported  that  a  large  per- 
centage of  the  bombs  failed  to  explode.^^ 

Yet,  despite  a  scattered  bomb  pattern  and  numerous  duds,  several 
bombs  fell  in  the  target  area—enough,  in  any  event,  to  cause  severe 
damage  to  both  targets,  together  with  considerable  incidental  damage 
to  industrial  and  rail  installations.^^  Ground  observations  made  by- 
Fighting  French  informants  credited  the  U.S.  forces  with  completely 
stopping  work  at  the  Hellemmes  textile  factory  and  with  doing  severe 
damage  to  the  power  station,  the  boiler  works,  and  the  turbines  at  the 
Fives-Lille  establishment.  A  branch  line  to  another  power  station 
apparently  relieved  the  enemy's  situation,  however,  for  work  in  the 
factory  was  resumed  after  a  relatively  brief  time.^^ 

Again,  as  in  the  Potez  mission  of  2  October,  the  question  of  bomb 
damage  came  to  be  overshadowed  by  that  of  the  day  bomber's  ability 
to  defend  itself  against  fighter  attack.  As  in  that  mission,  the  attacking 
Me-109's  and  FW-190's  concentrated  on  the  bombers  to  the  practical 
exclusion  of  the  combined  British  and  U.S.  fighter  escort,  which  in 
this  instance  numbered  156  aircraft,  including  36  P-38's  from  the  VIII 
Fighter  Command.^^  Unusually  heavy  fighter  opposition  brought  re- 
ports of  numerous  combats.  Three  B-i  7's  and  one  B-14  failed  to  return, 
although  the  crew  of  one  Fortress  was  picked  up  at  sea.  In  all,  thirty- 
one  crew  members  were  reported  missing  and  thirteen  wounded,  four 
B-17's  suffered  serious  damage,  and  thirty-two  B-17's  and  ten  B-24's 
were  slightly  damaged  by  fighter  action.®^  Those  losses  were  subject  to 
immediate  and  positive  confirmation;  the  damage  inflicted  upon  the 
GAF  was  less  readily  assessed. 

Initially,  it  was  reported  that  the  bombers  had  destroyed  fifty-six 
fighters,  probably  destroyed  twenty-six,  and  damaged  twenty.  Accord- 
ing to  these  figures,  the  Fortresses  had  put  out  of  action  102  enemy 
planes— more  than  1 5  per  cent  of  the  estimated  GAF  fighter  strength 
in  western  Europe.  British  intelligence  believed  that  no  more  than 
sixty  enemy  aircraft  could  possibly  have  intercepted.  This  discrepancy 
called  for  a  re-estimate  of  losses  inflicted  in  the  Lille  mission  and  con- 
firmed the  belief,  engendered  by  the  uniformly  high  claims  on  earlier 
missions,  that  VIII  Bomber  Command  was  in  need  of  a  system  of  inter- 
rogation and  evaluation  that  would  prevent  such  inflation  in  the  future. 
By  24  October,  the  Lille  claims  had  been  scaled  down  to  twenty-five 
destroyed  but  with  a  listing  of  thirty-eight  probables  and  forty-four 
damaged  for  a  grand  total  in  excess  of  the  original  figure.  In  January 

221 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORGES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

1943  a  general  review  of  early  combat  reports  reduced  the  figures  for 
this  engagement  to  twenty-one  destroyed,  twenty-one  probably  de- 
stroyed, and  fifteen  damaged.^"^  These  more  conservative  figures  argued 
little  against  the  earlier  conclusion  at  A AF  Headquarters  that  the  Lille 
mission  offered  convincing  evidence  that  the  day  bombers  *'in  strong 
formation  can  be  employed  effectively  and  successfully  without  fighter 
support."^^  But  it  is  now  apparent  from  enemy  sources  that  this  opti- 
mistic view  was  justified  by  the  ability  of  the  bombers  to  get  through 
to  the  target  and  to  return  with  limited  losses  rather  than  by  any  serious 
losses  inflicted  upon  enemy  fighter  forces.  Actually,  the  Germans  listed 
one  fightbr  destroyed  in  the  Lille  action  and  none  damaged.  One  other 
fighter  lost  that  day  could  possibly  be  credited  indirectly  to  the  effects 
of  combat  with  the  American  planes.  In  short  the  maximum  possible 
score  was  2,  not  102  or  57.* 

Although  it  is  difficult  to  explain  so  gross  an  exaggeration,  the  chief 
source  of  error  was  easily  diagnosed.  It  was  hard  for  crews  in  a  large 
formation  to  determine  which  bomber  had  been  responsible  for  an  ap- 
parently destroyed  or  damaged  German  plane,  so  that  each  gunner 
who  had  fired  at  the  enemy  fighter  from  a  reasonable  range  was  likely 
to  claim  it:  one  fighter  actually  shot  down  might  be  multiplied  into  a 
dozen  in  the  final  report.  The  crew  member,  however  honest  in  intent, 
could  hardly  qualify  as  a  detached  witness.  From  his  battle  station, 
vision  was  straitly  limited  and  his  impressions  of  a  complex  and  incred- 
ibly swift  action  must  inevitably  be  faulty  and  incomplete;  the  prom- 
ised award  of  a  decoration  for  his  first  kill  of  a  German  plane  did  little 
to  dissuade  him  from  the  not  unnatural  belief  that  it  had  been  his  bullet 
which  had  scored.  These  difficulties  appear  obvious  in  retrospect— and 
one  may  hope  that  they  would  so  jiave  appeared  at  the  time  to  one 
familiar  with  the  ordinary  canons  of  historical  analysis— but  they  pre- 
sented a  problem  for  which  the  interrogating  officers  had  not  been  fully 
prepared.  They  had  learned  at  the  intelligence  school  at  Harrisburg, 
Pennsylvania,  how  to  evaluate  most  of  the  important  information 
elicited  from  a  returning  crew,  particularly  that  concerning  bombing 
results.  But  as  late  as  24  August  1942  the  training  manual  on  bomber 
crew  interrogation  did  not  even  suggest,  as  part  of  the  check  list  of 
questions,  the  query,  *'Were  there  other  bombers  firing  at  the  enemy 

*  Information  supplied  through  the  courtesy  of  the  British  Air  Ministry  and  based 
on  German  Air  Ministry  returns  compiled  by  the  General  Quartermaster's  Department 
for  the  purpose  of  ascertaining  replacement  requirements  and  for  personnel  records. 

222 


THE   DAYLIGHT    BOMBING  EXPERIMENT 


fighter  claimed  as  destroyed?"  Harrisburg  had  been  strongly  influ- 
enced by  RAF  intelligence  procedure,  and  it  may  be  that  the  lack  of 
English  experience  in  day  bomber  battles  over  Europe  helps  account 
for  this  important  omission.  At  any  rate,  the  previously  neglected  ques- 
tion soon  became  a  most  important  part  of  the  interrogation.^^ 

Stirred  by  the  palpable  improbability  of  the  Lille  claims,  VIII  Bomb- 
er Command  made  a  prompt  attempt  to  tighten  up  the  interrogation 
procedure.  Although  crews  were  interrogated  immediately  on  their 
return,  before  their  first  impressions  of  the  battle  had  been  distorted  by 
reflection  or  a  creative  imagination,  the  pattern  of  any  considerable 
battle  was  exceedingly  difficult  to  re-create.  By  the  end  of  the  year  it 
was  becoming  common  practice  to  diagram  all  combats  resulting  in 
claims.^*^  Finally,  on  5  January  1943,  VIII  Bomber  Command  head- 
quarters issued  the  following  rules  governing  evaluations.  An  enemy 
plane  would  be  counted  as  destroyed  when  it  had  been  seen  descending 
completely  enveloped  in  flames,  but  not  if  flames  had  been  merely 
licking  out  from  the  engine.  It  would  be  counted  as  destroyed  when 
seen  to  disintegrate  in  the  air  or  when  the  complete  wing  or  tail 
assembly  had  been  shot  away  from  the  fuselage,  but  not  if  a  wheel  or 
some  other  part  of  the  airplane  had  been  shot  away.  Experience  with 
many  an  AAF  plane  had  demonstrated  that  a  badly  wounded  plane 
might  return  and  land  safely.  Single-engine  enemy  planes  would  be 
counted  destroyed  if  the  pilot  had  been  seen  to  bail  out.  The  "probably 
destroyed"  category  would  include  planes  for  which  no  certainty  of 
destruction  existed  but  where  the  intensity  of  flames  or  extent  of  dam- 
age seemed  to  preclude  chance  of  a  successful  landing.  An  enemy  plane 
could  be  claimed  as  damaged  when  any  of  its  parts  were  seen  shot  away. 
Every  effort  would  be  made  to  reduce  future  claims  and  to  eliminate 
crediting  the  same  German  fighter  to  two  or  more  gunners.*^ 

In  accordance  with  these  principles,  claims  registered  since  the  be- 
ginning of  operations  were  reviewed.  By  previous  standards,  claims  for 
all  missions  through  3  January  1943  had  totaled  223/88/99.  The  new 
yardstick  set  them  at  89  destroyed  (a  reduction  of  60.1  per  cent),  140 
probably  destroyed,  and  47  damaged,^^  a  revision  which  did  much  to 
satisfy  critics  on  both  sides  of  the  Atlantic,*^  Even  so,  the  figures  were 
still  too  high,  as  has  already  been  indicated  in  the  case  of  the  Lille  mis- 
sion of  9  October.  That  mission  and  an  attack  against  Romilly-sur- 
Seine  on  20  December*  were  the  most  important  in  respect  to  claims  in 

•  See  below,  pp.  256-58. 

223 


THE   ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


the  period  before  3  January.  Together  they  accounted  for  adjusted 
total  claims  of  42/52/22.  Enemy  sources  reveal,  however,  that  the  total 
score  was  possibly  no  more  than  three  planes  destroyed  and  one  dam- 
aged, and  certainly  no  more  than  seven  destroyed  and  eleven  dam- 
aged.* Even  under  the  new  directive  of  5  January,  claims  continued  to 
be  often  inaccurate  and  seldom  on  the  conservative  side,  a  conclusion 
supported  by  a  check  of  enemy  records  of  critical  air  battles  falling 
within  the  limits  of  this  volume.t 

The  failure  to  develop  a  more  reliable  method  of  estimating  enemy 
losses  was  of  grave  significance.  Public  relations  were  inevitably  in- 
volved. It  is  difficult  to  avoid  the  conclusion  that  the  evaluations,  espe- 
cially in  the  early  days,  reflected  a  natural  desire,  existing  all  along  the 
line  from  the  combat  crew  to  AAF  Headquarters,  to  prove  the  case  for 
daylight  bombing.  Inflated  reports,  widely  published,  sometimes  had 
to  be  corrected  to  the  embarrassment  of  the  AAF.  But  the  figures  on 
GAP  losses,  however  newsworthy,  were  not  collected  to  adorn  head- 
lines; they  constituted  a  type  of  intelligence  indispensable  for  the  stra- 
tegic planner,  and  it  was  in  realization  of  the  need  for  accurate  data  that 
Eighth  Air  Force  leaders  strove  to  correct  current  mistakes.  Those 
efforts  did  much  to  instill  into  the  minds  of  crew  members  a  more  con- 
servative attitude.  The  story  (probably  apocryphal)  is  told  of  a  gunner 
on  the  Wilhelmshaven  raid  of  27  January  1943  who,  on  observing  an  in- 
tercepting enemy  plane  blow  up  not  a  hundred  yards  from  the  bomber, 
nudged  a  comrade  who  had  been  firing  at  it  and  asked  "Do  you  want 
to  claim  that  one?"— to  which  the  second  gunner  replied  "No,  I  didn't 
see  it  crash."^^  Claims  continued  to  run  excessively  high,  as  will  be 
shown  in  subsequent  accounts  of  the  great  air  battles  of  1943-44,  but  in 
general  the  mistakes  seem  to  have  derived  from  an  honest  failure 
to  solve  the  problem  of  reporting  and  evaluating  a  most  complex 
operation. 

Whatever  concern  Eighth  Air  Force  leaders  may  have  had  for  favor- 
able publicity  they  realized  the  experimental  nature  of  their  early 
operations  and  attempted  to  interpret  the  data  revealed  by  them  in  as 

*  The  figures,  based  upon  returns  compiled  by  the  General  Quanermaster's  Depart- 
ment of  the  German  Air  Ministry,  are  exclusive  of  planes  destroyed  or  damaged  on  the 
ground  at  Romilly. 

t  At  the  author's  request,  the  record  has  been  checked  by  the  British  Air  Ministry  for 
the  following  missions  in  addition  to  those  already  indicated:  Wilhelmshaven  (27  Janu- 
ary 1943);  Bremen  (17  April);  Kiel  (14  May) ;  Bremen  (8  October);  Gdynia,  Anklam, 
Marienburg  (9  October);  Miinster  (10  October);  Schweinfurt  (14  October). 

224 


THE   DAYLIGHT   BOMBING  EXPERIMENT 

nearly  a  scientific  fashion  as  possible.  That  effort  was  reflected  in  the 
Eighth's  employment,  as  early  as  October  1942,  of  civilian  experts 
trained  in  statistical  analysis  and  in  various  other  scientific  disciplines 
pertinent  to  the  study  of  the  operations  of  a  strategic  bombing  force. 
The  work  of  this  group,  called  originally  the  Operational  Research 
Section,  did  not  bear  fruit  until  1943,  but  during  that  year  it  was  re- 
sponsible for  a  review  of  many  operational  problems  which  led  to  sig- 
nificant tactical  developments.  The  desire  for  full  and  reliable  opera- 
tional data  led  also  to  the  development  of  a  standardized  mission  report 
which  consolidated  all  pertinent  information  from  the  combat  units 
and  the  several  staff  sections.  Compiled  for  current  use  of  the  tactical 
analyst,  these  reports  have  since  become  for  the  historian  a  source  of 
invaluable  information.  So  complete,  indeed,  were  the  mission  reports 
and  so  accurate  in  most  respects  other  than  claims  on  enemy  losses,  that 
the  historian  rarely  finds  it  necessary  to  utilize  the  operational  records 
of  the  lower  echelons.  Upon  completion  of  the  first  twenty-three  mis- 
sions ( 1 7  August  to  23  November)  an  attempt  was  made  to  consoUdate 
all  valuable  information  on  each  mission  and  to  analyze  certain  signifi- 
cant problems  raised  by  three  months  of  operations.  This  report,  called 
"The  First  1 100  Bombers,"  affected  in  turn  the  system  of  mission  re- 
porting. It  has  been  used  extensively  as  a  source  for  this  chapter. 

Even  before  compiling  that  report  the  Eighth  Air  Force  had  begun 
to  take  stock.  Whatever  the  score  in  combat  may  have  been  by  early 
October,  the  first  fourteen  missions  had  been  on  the  whole  very  en- 
couraging. Targets  had  been  attacked  with  reasonable  frequency,  es- 
pecially during  the  first  three  weeks,  and  hit  with  a  fair  degree  of  accu- 
racy. During  the  first  nine  missions,  the  Germans  had  evidently  refused 
to  take  the  day  bombing  seriously.  The  American  forces  had  been 
small  and  the  fighter  escort  heavy,  and  so  the  Germans  had  sent  up  few 
fighters,  preferring  to  take  the  consequences  of  light  bombing  raids 
rather  than  to  risk  the  loss  of  valuable  aircraft.  And  when  the  German 
fighters  did  take  to  the  air,  they  exhibited  a  marked  disinclination  to 
close  with  the  bomber  formation.^''  The  bombing  had  been  more  accu- 
rate than  most  observers  had  expected.*®  Indeed,  it  was  a  tribute  of 
sorts  to  the  accuracy  of  the  Americans  that  after  the  ninth  mission 
enemy  fighter  opposition  suddenly  increased.  And  it  was  a  source  of 
satisfaction  to  the  AAF  commanders  that  the  B-17's  and  the  B-24's 
appeared  more  than  able  to  hold  their  own  against  fighter  attacks,  even 
with  a  minimum  of  aid  from  the  escorting  aircraft.  As  for  antiaircraft 

225 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 


defenses,  at  no  time  had  they  presented  a  serious  threat  to  the  bombers. 
After  the  tenth  mission  a  marked  increase  in  damage  became  apparent, 
but  as  yet  the  day  bombers  had  suffered  nothing  to  compare  with  the 
losses  reported  by  the  RAF  on  their  night  raids  at  lower  altitudes.*^  No 
heavy  bombers  had  been  lost  from  flak,  and  only  minor  damage  had 
been  sustained.  On  the  other  hand,  six  aircraft  were  destroyed  by 
enemy  fighters.  It  began  to  look  as  if  altitude  alone  might  provide  de- 
cisive protection  against  antiaircraft;  but  events  were  to  demonstrate 
that  this  forecast  was  too  hopeful. 

Eighth  Air  Force  commanders  were  in  an  optimistic  mood  by 
9  October  1942  and,  in  a  measure,  justifiably  so.  Possibly  the  early  ex- 
pressions of  opinion,  made  after  the  first  week  of  operations,  had  been 
a  little  too  sanguine.  On  27  August,  for  example,  General  Eaker  had 
informed  General  Spaatz  that  the  U.S.  bombers  gave  promise  of  being 
able  to  place  90  per  cent  of  their  bombs  within  the  one-mile  radius,  40 
per  cent  within  500  yards,  2  5  per  cent  within  25oyards,  andioper  cent 
dead  on  the  aiming  point,  or  within  a  "rectangle  100  yards  on  the  side." 
Therefore,  given  a  force  of  ten  groups  of  heavy  bombers,  enemy  air- 
craft factories  could  be  destroyed  to  the  point  where  they  could  not 
supply  the  field  forces,  and  submarine  activity  could  be  "completely 
stopped  within  a  period  of  three  months  by  destruction  of  bases,  fac- 
tories and  docks."  Granting  that  weather  would  be  bad  in  the  United 
Kingdom  for  day  bombing,  he  believed  that  at  least  ten  missions  per 
month  would  be  possible.  Although  a  larger  force  could  be  handled  and 
would  be  advisable,  ten  groups  in  1942,  and  ten  additional  by  June 
1943,  would  be  adequate,  "coupled  with  the  British  night  bombing 
effort,  completely  to  dislocate  German  industry  and  commerce,  and  to 
remove  from  the  enemy  the  means  for  waging  successful  warfare."*® 
General  Spaatz  declared  himself  entirely  in  accord  with  this  estimate 
and  spoke  of  the  "extreme  accuracy"  of  the  American  bombers.*® 

AAF  Headquarters  in  Washington  received  these  reports  with  some 
reservations.  Rather  than  "extreme  accuracy,"  headquarters  agencies 
preferred  to  speak  of  the  "fair  accuracy"  achieved  in  the  first  missions. 
Bombing  had  been  accurate  in  relation  to  European  standards  rather 
than  according  to  any  absolute  standard,  an  opinion  which  General 
Spaatz  himself  expressed  on  further  reflection.^^  Nevertheless,  it  was 
possible  for  analysts  in  the  office  of  AC/AS,  Intelligence,  looking  back 
over  the  entire  fourteen  missions,  to  share  General  Eaker's  optimism 
226 


THE   DAYLIGHT   BOMBING  EXPERIMENT 


and  to  accept  his  estimates  regarding  both  accuracy  and  force 
requirejd.^^ 

These  early  missions  had  also  made  a  noticeable  impression  on  British 
opinion.  If  not  as  enthusiastic  as  their  American  allies,  British  observeirs 
in  September  and  October  were  at  least  ready  to  admit  that  the  AAF 
day  bombers  and  the  policy  of  day  bombardment  showed  surprising 
promise.  As  early  as  24  August,  General  Spaatz  reported  a  significant 
change  of  mind  on  the  part  of  the  RAF.  In  a  statement  which,  among 
other  things,  indicates  how  tentative  had  been  the  British  official  ac- 
ceptance of  the  American  bombardment  doctrine,  he  stated  that  the 
RAF  was  now  willing  to  alter  its  conception  of  the  nature  of  daylight 
bombing  operations  from  one  wherein  the  bombers  were  to  be  used 
mainly  as  bait  to  lure  the  enemy  fighters  into  action  to  one  in  which  the 
bombing  had  become  the  principal  mission  and  the  supporting  fighters 
were  employed  to  further  that  effort  rather  than  to  attack  the  German 
Air  Force. General  Eaker  wrote  at  about  the  same  date  that  the 
British  "acknowledge  willingly  and  cheerfully  the  great  accuracy  of 
our  bombing,  the  surprising  hardihood  of  our  bombardment  aircraft 
and  the  skill  and  tenacity  of  our  crews."®^ 

A  review  made  by  the  Air  Ministry  of  the  B-17  operations  from  17 
August  to  6  September  substantiated  this  interpretation.  It  referred  to 
the  high  standard  of  accuracy  attained,  considering  the  inexperience  of 
the  crews.  It  pointed  to  the  fact  that  in  ten  missions  only  two  aircraft 
had  been  lost,  owing  to  the  ineffectiveness  of  the  flak  at  high  altitude 
and  to  the  ability  of  the  Fortress  to  take  care  of  itself  against  fighter 
attack.  "The  damage  caused,  commensurate  with  the  weight  of  effort 
expended,  is  considerable,"  the  report  read,  adding  (quite  rightly)  that 
complete  destruction  of  any  of  the  targets  attacked  with  the  forces  at 
present  available  could  not  have  been  expected.  But,  it  concluded— with 
some  enthusiasm  though  little  appreciation  of  what  the  AAF  hoped  to 
accomplish  in  its  bombing  offensive— if  only  these  Fortresses  were 
employed  on  night  operations  the  effectiveness  of  the  area  bombing 
program  could  be  raised  from  its  current  rate  of  50  per  cent  to  100  per 
cent,  and  a  decisive  blow  could  be  dealt  to  German  morale  during  the 
coming  winter!^* 

British  press  opinion,  which  in  mid-August  had  been  cool,  if  not 
hostile,  to  the  day  bombing  project,  showed  a  similar  change  of  tone. 
On  I  September,  Colin  Bednall  wrote  in  the  Daily  Mail  as  follows:  "So 
remarkable  has  been  the  success  of  the  new  Flying  Fortresses  operated 

227 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


by  the  US  AAF  from  this  country  that  it  is  likely  to  lead  to  a  drastic 
resorting  of  basic  ideas  on  air  warfare  which  have  stood  firm  since  the 
infancy  of  flying.  Peter  Masefield,  whose  comments  on  the  eve  of  the 
first  Fortress  mission  had  been  decidedly  critical  of  the  American  bomb- 
ers and  patronizing  towards  their  capabilities,  revised  his  judgment 
frankly,  but  somewhat  more  gradually .^^  Prior  to  the  Lille  mission  of 
9  October  he  stoutly  maintained  that  the  B-17's  needed  escort  and  that 
therefore  their  effective  range  was  limited  absolutely  to  the  range  of 
the  escorting  fighters.  'There  is  no  doubt  [he  concluded] . , .  that  day 
bombing  at  long  range  is  not  possible  as  a  regular  operation  unless 
fighter  opposition  is  previously  overwhelmed  or  until  we  have  some- 
thing too  fast  for  the  fighters  to  intercept."  Then,  he  believed,  but  only 
then,  the  entire  Allied  bombing  force  might  well  be  turned  to 
day  bombing,'*'^ 

After  the  USAAF  operation  of  9  October  he  declared  that  the  ques- 
tion "Can  we  carry  day  air  war  into  Germany?"— which  had  hitherto 
been  answered  in  the  unqualified  negative— was  now  subject  to  a  new 
assessment.  It  might  be  that  altitude  and  firepower  could  some  day 
make  deep  penetrations  of  enemy  territory  feasible.  Several  factors, 
however,  still  limited  the  range  of  the  U.S.  bombers:  any  raid  to  Ger- 
many would  as  yet  have  to  be  conducted  beyond  effective  fighter 
range;  long  distance  flights  would  give  the  enemy  warning  system 
sufficient  time  to  work  at  maximum  efficiency;  bomber  ammunition 
would  likely  run  low  in  protracted  encounters  with  enemy  aircraft 
which  would  be  free  to  attack  in  the  most  effective  manner,  unham- 
pered by  escort  fighters;  and  finally  weather  over  Europe  between 
November  and  March  was  "not  particularly  favourable  for  high-flying 
operations."  Thus  true  air  superiority  remained  confined  to  the  range 
of  the  fighter,  and  cloud  and  darkness  still  offered  the  best  cover  for 
bombing  attacks.  But  Masefield  ended  his  article  of  18  October  in  a 
pliable  frame  of  mind.  "The  Americans  have  taught  us  much;  we  still 
have  much  to  learn— and  much  we  can  teach."^® 

This  cooperative  attitude  on  the  part  of  the  British  the  Eighth  Air 
Force  found  encouraging  in  itself,  for  it  was  absolutely  essential  to  the 
success  of  any  combined  campaign  that  the  two  partners  should  work 
together  without  friction,  each  possessed  of  a  substantial  faith  in  the 
other's  doctrines  and  equipment.  General  Spaatz  was  keenly  aware  of 
this  fact.  After  the  first  week  of  operations  he  reported  confidently 
that  the  American  air  forces  had  demonstrated  that  they  could  conduct 

228 


THE   DAYLIGHT   BOMBING  EXPERIMENT 

operations  in  close  cooperation  and  harmony  with  the  RAF.  And, 
somewhat  later,  he  expressed  concern  over  what  he  believed  to  be  an 
increasing  habit  among  Americans  of  belittling  the  RAF  and  its  bomb- 
ing effort.  Without  underwriting  everything  done  by  the  British,  he 
pointed  out  that  they  were  in  a  position  to  speak  with  authority  on 
bombing  operations  and  that,  in  point  of  fact,  the  RAF  was  the  only 
Allied  agency  at  the  time  steadily  engaged  in  "pounding  hell  out  of 
Germany."^* 

Limiting  Factors 

If,  as  General  Eaker  said,  both  the  RAF  and  the  Eighth  Air  Force 
were  more  cheerful  over  the  daylight  bombing  offensive  ''than  had 
been  thought  possible  a  month  ago,"  many  problems  had  yet  to  be 
faced  before  that  offensive  could  be  declared  a  success  or,  indeed, 
before  it  could  be  given  an  unquestioned  place  in  the  military  scheme 
of  things.  Some  of  these  problems  could  be  solved,  others  could  at  best 
be  only  borne  with  hopefully  and  patiently:  together  they  contributed 
an  undertone  of  solemn  seriousness  to  the  chorus  of  official  optimism. 
Among  those  which  might  presumably  be  solved  in  time  was  that  of 
training;  but  it  was  still  a  major  problem.  The  97th  Group  had  begun 
operations  with  inadequate  preparation,  and  the  new  groups  as  they 
arrived  in  the  United  Kingdom  and  became  operational  found  them- 
selves in  little  better  position.  For  want  of  time,  none  had  been  fully 
trained  before  leaving  the  States.  Weather  in  the  British  Isles  discour- 
aged training  in  high-altitude  flying,  and  facilities  were  lacking  there 
for  conducting  realistic  practice  in  aerial  gunnery.  The  result  was  that 
much  of  the  training  in  high-altitude  flying,  in  high-altitude  bombing, 
and  in  aerial  gunnery  had  to  be  done  on  combat  missions  against  a  real 
enemy.  Once  combat  operations  had  been  begun,  the  lack  of  an  adequate 
flow  of  replacement  crews  made  it  necessary  to  alert  the  same  men  on 
every  mission  scheduled,  which  was  normally  as  often  as  weather  per- 
mitted. It  was  consequently  hard  to  keep  up  a  regular  schedule  of  train- 
ing. It  soon  became  evident  that  the  place  to  perfect  aircrews  and  units 
was  in  the  United  States,  not  in  the  United  Kingdom,  and  efforts  were 
accordingly  made  to  shape  training  in  the  Zone  of  the  Interior  along 
lines  indicated  by  experience  in  the  theater,®^ 

Another  problem  was  involved  in  developing  U.S.  fighter  support 
for  the  day  bombers.  Although  of  slight  immediate  importance  to  the 
activities  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force  in  the  fall  of  1942,  the  concept  of 

229 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

U.S.  fighter  support  was  fundamental  to  the  notion  of  a  day  bomber 
offensive.  No  matter  how  well  the  bombers  had  done  in  their  early 
missions  in  combat  with  fighters,  it  was  still  regarded  as  a  matter  of  the 
utmost  urgency  to  provide  them  with  as  much  protection  for  as  great 
a  distance  into  enemy  territory  as  possible.  It  had  long  been  axiomatic 
in  the  AAF  that  the  primary  role  of  American  fighters  in  the  ETO 
would  be  to  escort  bomber  missions.  To  accompany  missions  deep  into 
Germany  it  was  essential  to  develop  a  suitable  long-range  fighter,  and 
great  things  were  hoped  from  the  P-38.  The  priority  given  to  TORCH 
for  all  such  equipment  made  the  operation  of  the  fighters  for  the  time 
being,  however,  of  academic  interest  only,  for  they  were  virtually  all 
withdrawn  to  the  North  African  project  in  October.  But  the  problem 
of  the  fighters  remained  one  of  the  greatest  significance  for  the  bomber 
offensive  from  the  United  Kingdom. 

During  most  of  the  period  covered  by  this  chapter  the  Eighth  Air 
Force  had  an  assigned  strength  of  four  fighter  groups.  Only  one,  how- 
ever (the  31st,  equipped  with  Spitfires  according  to  an  agreement  be- 
tween the  AAF  and  the  RAF),  saw  considerable  action,  flying  1,286 
sorties  prior  to  its  removal  to  Africa  in  October  and  being  credited 
with  three  enemy  planes  destroyed,  four  probably  destroyed,  and  two 
damaged.  The  other  three  (the  ist  and  14th  with  P-38's  and  the  52d 
with  Spitfires)  did  not  come  to  grips  with  the  GAF  during  their  short 
stay  in  Great  Britain,  although  they  flew  several  sorties  over  enemy 
territory .^^  In  addition,  many  American  pilots  had  been  serving  in 
Eagle  squadrons  with  the  RAF,  These  units,  equipped  with  Spitfires, 
were  formally  taken  over  by  the  VIII  Fighter  Command  on  29  Septem- 
ber 1942  and  organized  into  the  4th  Fighter  Group. 

The  Spitfire  pilots,  though  operating  some  aircraft  (the  V-B)  which 
were  inferior  to  the  FW-190,  went  into  combat  with  confidence  in 
their  planes.^^  The  situation  was  not  nearly  so  simple  with  the  P~38. 
The  RAF  did  not  at  first  like  the  P-38.  As  in  the  case  of  the  American 
bombers,  early  showings  in  the  United  Kingdom  had  been  unfortunate. 
When,  however,  certain  modifications  had  been  effected,  the  P-38  be- 
came potentially  as  good  a  plane  as  any  in  the  theater,  a  fact  which  the 
British  themselves  admitted.^*  Yet  suspicion  of  the  P-38  still  lurked 
among  the  U.S.  pilots,  fostered  in  part  by  hearsay  and  in  part  by  a 
couple  of  bad  accidents  involving  improperly  manipulated  power 
dives.^^  Only  actual  combat  experience  was  likely  to  dispel  doubts  in 
both  AAF  and  RAF  minds. 

230 


THE    DAYLIGHT    BOMBING  EXPERIMENT 

General  Spaatz  was  therefore  very  anxious  to  get  the  P-38's  into 
action  as  soon  as  possible  without  committing  them  prematurely.  Any 
fighters  that  went  out  over  enemy  territory  ran  the  risk  of  tangling 
with  the  best  of  the  German  Air  Force  pilots;  so  it  was  necessary  to 
give  the  Lightning  pilots  careful  training  in  cross-Channel  flights 
before  sending  them  into  a  real  battle. Bad  weather  and  mechanical 
failures  delayed  their  entry  into  combat,  but  after  16  September  they 
became  fully  operational  and  flew  on  several  missions  before  being  re- 
moved to  the  North  African  project  in  October.®^  Their  contact  with 
the  enemy  was  slight,  however,  and  no  conclusions  could  be  drawn. 
As  of  14  September  the  four  fighter  groups  of  the  VIII  Fighter 
Command  were  transferred  to  the  XII  Fighter  Command  for  shipment 
to  North  Africa.  They  continued  to  operate  under  the  VIII  Fighter 
Command  until  10  October.  Only  the  4th  Group,  consisting  of  former 
Eagle  pilots,  remained  in  the  United  Kingdom. It  was  many  months 
before  a  significant  force  of  AAF  fighters  was  able  to  operate  regularly 
from  the  British  bases. 

The  development  of  a  self-sufficient  U.S.  fighter  force  may  have 
been  essential  to  the  plan  of  8  September  for  the  day  bomber  offensive, 
but  it  was  not  essential  to  the  immediate  prosecution  of  the  campaign 
itself.  If  the  basic  fighter  units  were  removed  for  TORCH,  RAF  units 
remained  to  provide  cover  for  the  American  bombers.  But  TORCH 
constituted  nevertheless  a  threat  to  bombing  operations  from  the 
United  Kingdom,  the  gravity  of  which  can  hardly  be  exaggerated.  Im- 
mediately that  TORCH  was  approved,  it  became  evident  that  prepara- 
tion for  the  North  African  operation  would  for  an  indefinite  period 
take  priority  over  all  other  air  activities  in  the  United  Kingdom.  On 
8  September,  General  Spaatz  issued  specific  orders  to  this  effect,  and 
although  the  order  was  rescinded  a  few  days  later,  it  appeared  for  the 
time  being  that  tactical  operations  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force,  including 
combat  missions,  would  be  completely  suspended.^^  Each  command  in 
the  Eighth  Air  Force  and  each  section  in  its  headquarters  was  given  re- 
sponsibility for  processing  corresponding  agencies  in  the  new  Twelfth 
Air  Force.  In  addition  to  the  four  fighter  groups  contributed  directly 
to  the  Twelfth,  the  older  air  force  was  scheduled  also  to  lose  two  heavy 
bombardment  groups  (the  97th  and  301st)  after  the  first  week  in 
November  and  two  more  at  a  later  date.*^^ 

Thus  the  drain  on  the  combat  strength  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force 
caused  by  the  TORCH  operation  was  both  direct  and  indirect.  The 

231 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES  IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


loss  of  two  groups  would  reduce  the  heavy  bomber  strength  by  one- 
third— and  combat  effectiveness  by  an  even  larger  proportion,  since 
these  were  the  two  oldest  and  most  experienced  bomber  units  in  VIII 
Bomber  Command.  The  indirect  effect  involved  in  processing  the 
Twelfth  Air  Force  units  was  even  more  devastating.  As  General  Eaker 
stated  on  4  January  1943,  VIII  Bomber  Command  staff  offices  had  been 
devoting  half  their  time  to  supervising  the  training,  supply,  and  main- 
tenance of  XII  Bomber  Command.  The  combat  crew  replacement 
center,  from  which  combat  units  were  supposed  to  draw  necessary  re- 
plenishment, had  given  first  priority  to  the  TORCH  units  which  had 
to  be  built  quickly  up  to  strength.''^  The  Twelfth  Air  Force  also  en- 
joyed priority  in  organizational  equipment,  spare  parts,  and  aircraft  re- 
placements; and  the  VIII  Air  Force  Service  Command  was  spending 
by  far  the  greater  part  of  its  effort  on  the  TORCH  units,  in  addition 
to  contributing  large  numbers  of  trained  men  and  quantities  of  equip- 
ment.'^^ As  a  result,  servicing  and  maintenance  for  VIII  Bomber  Com- 
mand aircraft  became  slow  and  uncertain,  preventing  the  most  effec- 
tive employment  of  such  bombers  as  were  on  hand  and  increasing  the 
likelihood  of  abortive  sorties.  Faced  with  shortages  in  almost  every 
category,  the  VIII  Bomber  Command  ground  crews  often  had  to  re- 
sort to  "cannibalism"— the  dismantling  of  damaged  aircraft,  dubbed 
"hangar  queens."  It  was  the  opinion  of  some  group  commanders  that  if 
crews  had  not  shown  extreme  energy  and  ingenuity  in  this  regard  at 
least  half  of  the  bombers  maintained  on  operational  status  would  have 
been  out  of  combat,''^^  The  VIII  Fighter  Command  had  been  assigned  the 
specific  task  of  dispatching  units  to  Africa,  and  this  effort,  in  addition 
to  the  loss  of  four  out  of  five  groups,  promised  to  render  it  practically 
useless  as  far  as  operations  from  the  United  Kingdom  were  concerned 
until  the  movement  had  been  completed.^* 

Almost  more  depressing  than  the  demands  of  TORCH  to  those 
whose  duty  it  was  to  keep  up  a  bombing  offensive  from  the  United 
Kingdom  was  the  weather  in  that  region.  Unlike  TORCH,  this  handi- 
cap was  to  be  recurrent.  Favorable  weather  was  an  absolute  prerequi- 
site to  successful  day  bombing,  at  least  until  more  efficient  methods  of 
blind  bombing  had  been  discovered  than  any  yet  developed.  It  had 
been  with  the  full  knowledge  of  this  fact  that  the  USAAF  had  pro- 
jected its  scheme  for  a  day  bombing  offensive  from  the  United  King- 
dom. But  the  weather  in  the  fall  of  1942  seemed— and  British  observers 
claimed  that  it  was— unusually  bad.'^'^  Fewer  operational  days  had 

232 


THE    DAYLIGHT    BOMBING  EXPERIMENT 


turned  up  in  September  than  had  been  hoped  for,  and  as  October  pro- 
gressed, the  situation  only  grew  more  disheartening.''® 

By  early  October  it  was  seriously  debated  whether  it  was  feasible  to 
conduct  a  full-scale  offensive  of  this  sort  from  British  bases,  especially 
in  view  of  the  fact  that  a  successful  North  African  campaign  might  be 
expected  to  open  up  a  very  attractive  alternate  base  area  in  that  quarter. 
To  offset  such  a  defeatist  attitude  General  Eaker  wrote  on  8  October 
that  weather  should  not  cause  too  much  alarm.  There  were,  he  main- 
tained, five  to  eight  days  in  every  month  favorable  to  maximum  effort 
at  high  level,  which  was  about  all  the  current  rate  of  replacements 
would  allow  in  the  best  of  circumstances.  This  represented  a  more 
cautious  estimate  than  that  of  ten  missions  a  month  made  in  August,  but 
General  Eaker  hoped  to  keep  the  enemy  from  resting  during  the 
interim  periods  of  relatively  bad  weather  by  developing  a  highly 
trained  and  skilled  intruder  force,  capable  of  employing  bad  weather  as 
a  cloak  for  small  blind-bombing  operations.'^''  Plans  were  in  fact 
already  made  for  these  "moling"  missions  which,  it  was  hoped,  by  the 
use  of  the  most  advanced  navigational  and  bombing  devices,  would 
make  it  possible  for  single  B-24's  to  keep  enemy  air  raid  systems  and 
defensive  establishments  on  the  alert  and  so  interrupt  enemy  industrial 
production.''® 

What  bothered  the  Eighth  Air  Force  commanders  most  about  both 
the  diversion  to  TORCH  and  the  bad  British  weather  was  that,  for  a 
successful  day  bomber  offensive,  time  was  of  the  essence;  and  on  both 
counts  vital  time  seemed  likely  to  be  lost.  Every  month  of  delay  in 
mounting  a  full-scale  offensive  against  German  industry  gave  the 
enemy  just  that  much  time  in  which  to  redeploy  his  forces  and  to  re- 
adjust his  techniques  to  counter  the  Allied  attack.  So  far  the  GAF  had 
reacted  to  the  daylight  attacks  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force  with  less  alac- 
rity and  with  less  deadly  effect  than  had  been  generally  anticipated. 
The  GAF  kept  barely  one-fourth  of  its  total  day  fighter  strength  on 
the  western  front  during  the  fall  of  1942,  preferring  to  concentrate  its 
forces  on  the  two  land  fronts  in  Africa  and  Russia.  Furthermore,  it 
showed  no  signs  of  reinforcing  the  fighters  on  the  western  front,  even 
after  the  pattern  of  Eighth  Air  Force  bombing  activity  had  become 
evident  and  its  seriousness  at  least  partially  appreciated.  By  the  end  of 
the  year  the  German  fighter  defenses  in  the  west  were  still  deployed  in 
a  relatively  thin  line  from  Norway  to  Brittany,  with  some  concentra- 
tion in  the  Pas  de  Calais  area  and  in  Normandy,  both  of  which  areas  de- 

233 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

fended,  among  other  things,  the  route  to  Paris.  Nor  had  it  been  too 
difficult  for  the  dayhght  bombing  missions  to  avoid  disastrous  concen- 
trations of  enemy  fighters.  Although  the  high-level  bombing  mission 
was,  almost  from  its  time  of  take-off,  an  open  secret  to  the  German 
radar  detectors,  it  had  been  possible  by  diversionary  sweeps  and  decep- 
tive measures  to  confuse  the  enemy  as  to  the  identity  and  size  of  the 
main  attacking  force.  Medium  bomber  attacks  accompanied  by  fighter 
sweeps  had  generally  succeeded  in  drawing  off  a  number  of  German 
fighters  that  might  otherwise  have  tangled  with  the  heavy  bombers. 
And  a  radio  countermeasure  known  as  "moonshine,"  employed  by  a 
small  force  of  RAF  Defiants  in  order  to  make  themselves  appear  to 
German  controllers  as  a  large  heavy  bomber  formation,  worked  very 
well  as  an  evasion  technique  until  November  1942.'^® 

These  facts  seem  to  have  made  the  task  of  penetrating  enemy  fighter 
defenses  look  deceptively  easy  to  American  observers.  To  some  it  ap- 
peared possible  that  the  day  bombers  might  after  all  be  able  to  penetrate 
German  fighter  defenses  without  their  own  fighter  protection.  It  was 
strongly  suggested  in  Washington  that  the  GAF  was  actually  on  the 
wane,  that  the  fighting  on  the  land  fronts,  coming  on  top  of  the  earlier 
air  action  in  the  west,  had  forced  the  enemy  to  cut  heavily  into  its 
stored  reserves  in  order  to  maintain  its  front-line  strength.®**  This  esti- 
mate, though  since  shown  to  be  in  error,  was  not  without  justification 
for  it  was  not  until  1 943 ,  after  the  strategic  day  bombing  by  the  Eighth 
Air  Force  became  an  unmistakable  threat,  that  the  German  high  com- 
mand undertook  seriously  to  build  up  the  total  GAF  fighter  force  or  to 
redeploy  it  to  strengthen  the  western  front.  Even  if  true,  of  course,  a 
decline  in  the  strength  of  the  GAF  would  in  itself  have  been  a  strong 
argument  for  pressing  the  attack  before  the  enemy  could  rebuild  his 
forces.  Beneath  this  optimism,  however,  lay  a  sober  respect  for  the 
resiliency  and  intelligence  of  the  GAF.  The  Germans  had  it  in  their 
power  to  do  either  of  two  things:  they  could  increase  their  production 
of  fighter  aircraft,  at  the  expense  of  other  types  if  need  be,®^  or  they 
could  build  up  a  strong  force  of  heavy  bombers  in  order  to  strike  back 
at  the  British  cities.  In  either  case,  time  would  be  required  to  reorganize 
production.  One  of  the  alternatives  seemed,  however,  inevitable;  and 
it  occurred  to  General  Spaatz  that  the  Germans  might  well  profit  by 
the  lessons  in  daylight  bombing  delivered  so  recently  and  con- 
vincingly by  the  Eighth  Air  Force.  By  adding  firepower  and  armor  to 
their  four-engine  FW-200's  they  might  act  against  the  United  King- 


234 


THE   DAYLIGHT   BOMBING  EXPERIMENT 

dom  before  the  American  forces  could  exploit  their  current  technical 
advantage.  "Daylight  bombing,"  he  wrote  on  i6  September,  "with  the 
same  accuracy  as  we  have  gotten  and  with  the  same  casualty  ratio  in  air 
fighting  would  raise  hell  with  this  island.  We  must  hit  their  aircraft 
factories  before  Spring  and  it  requires  a  large  number  of  B-17's  to 
attempt  this."^^ 

Thus  the  picture  presented  by  the  day  bombing  offensive  just  after 
the  mission  against  Lille  on  9  October  was  one  of  sharply  contrasting 
lights  and  shadows.  During  the  rest  of  the  month  the  shadows  tended, 
in  a  sense  quite  literally,  to  lengthen.  On  the  25  th,  General  Arnold  re- 
quested a  full  explanation  of  the  small  number  of  missions  recently 
carried  out.  The  answer  merely  recounted  the  problems  and  obstacles 
that  had  been  faced  increasingly  during  the  previous  weeks:  the 
weather,  the  demands  of  the  TORCH  movement,  and  the  inadequate 
training  status  of  the  remaining  units.^^  Owing  to  unfavorable  weather, 
only  one  mission  had  been  accomplished  since  9  October.^^  The  RAF 
reported  that  no  reconnaissance  photographs  of  any  value  had  been 
turned  over  to  its  bomber  command  since  the  middle  of  September  as 
a  result  of  the  consistently  poor  visibility.^^ 

By  I  November,  too,  the  inroads  made  by  the  Twelfth  Air  Force  on 
the  strength  of  the  older  organization  had  become  more  apparent.  In 
addition  to  four  fighter  and  two  heavy  bomber  groups,  the  Eighth  Air 
Force  had  turned  over  trained  personnel  to  the  extent  of  3,198  officers, 
24,124  enlisted  men,  and  34  warrant  officers,  of  whom  1,098  officers, 
7,101  enlisted  men,  and  14  warrant  officers  came  from  the  VIII  Bomber 
Command  alone. ®^  The  remaining  heavy  bombardment  groups  (the 
44th,  91st,  92d,  93d,  303d,  305th,  and  306th)  suffered  considerably 
from  loss  of  such  essential  equipment  as  bomb-loading  appliances  and 
transport  vehicles.  They  suffered  even  more  from  the  complete  lack 
of  replacements,  both  crews  and  aircraft,  a  fact  which  made  it  impos- 
sible to  keep  a  large  force  in  the  air  even  when  weather  conditions 
permitted;  and  no  prospect  was  in  sight  of  receiving  any  during 
November.®^ 

Of  the  heavy  bombardment  groups  scheduled  to  be  left  in  the 
United  Kingdom  (five  groups  of  B-17's  and  two  groups  minus  one 
squadron  of  B-24's),  only  two  were  by  the  end  of  October  in  fully 
operational  status. It  had  been  found  necessary  to  give  two  to  three 
weeks'  extra  training  to  all  new  units  in  formation  flying  at  high  alti- 
tude, in  radio  operation,  and  in  aerial  gunnery.  And  even  as  the  crews 

235 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


gained  in  experience  it  was  the  policy  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force  to  send 
them  out  only  in  circumstances  for  which  their  state  of  training  had 
made  them  fit.  General  Eaker  believed  that  nothing  could  be  gained  by 
dispatching  green  units  when  conditions  of  weather  or  enemy  defenses 
would  only  cause  inordinate  loss.  For  the  same  reason  it  was  not 
thought  wise  to  undertake  missions  that  would  require  landing  or 
take-off  in  darkness,  an  attitude  which  seriously  limited  the  time  avail- 
able for  operations  during  the  short  fall  and  winter  days.^® 

Furthermore,  the  scope  of  Eighth  Air  Force  missions  had  been  re- 
stricted to  a  relatively  narrow  area  in  occupied  France  and  the  Low 
Countries  which  could  be  reached  in  a  short  time,  with  the  bombing 
formation  exposed  to  attack  only  for  brief  periods,  and  which,  pre- 
sumably, did  not  as  yet  possess  such  strong  defenses  as  might  be  ex- 
pected in  Germany  proper.  Unfortunately,  this  otherwise  necessary 
restriction  prevented  the  bomber  command  from  making  use  of  occa- 
sional streaks  of  fine  weather  over  more  distant  targets  and  over 
Germany  proper  at  times  when  France  and  the  Netherlands  were  com- 
pletely  closed  in.  Restrictions  in  the  area  and  time  of  attacks  simplified 
the  GAF's  problems  of  defense. 

It  was  confidently  hoped  that  a  force  of  sufficient  size  and  training 
to  saturate  enemy  defenses  would  remove  many  of  the  limitations. 
Such  a  force  would  permit  deeper  penetrations  into  Germany  and  a 
consequently  wider  choice  of  weather  conditions.  General  Spaatz 
hoped  it  would  also  allow  operations  at  lower  altitudes  beyond  the 
range  of  the  fighter  escort,  with  a  consequent  increase  in  the  effective- 
ness of  the  attacking  force.®*'  Given  a  force  of  300  heavy  bombers 
flown  by  trained  crews,  General  Eaker  believed  he  could  attack  any 
target  in  Germany  by  day  with  less  than  4  per  cent  loss.  Smaller  num- 
bers would  naturally  suffer  more  severely.  Despite  all  problems  and 
currently  effective  limitations,  he  stoutly  maintained  that  "daylight 
bombing  of  Germany  with  planes  of  the  B-17  and  B-24  types  is  feas- 
ible, practicable  and  economical."®^ 

Meanwhile  it  was  a  question  either  of  committing  valuable  crews 
and  aircraft  prematurely  to  operations  over  heavily  defended  territory 
and  in  bad  weather  or  else  of  proceeding  cautiously  as  training  status 
and  rate  of  replacements  would  permit  effective  operations  of  wider 
scope.  General  Eaker  preferred  the  latter  alternative,  for  to  adopt  the 
former  would  be  not  only  to  incur  crippling  losses  but  to  ruin  "for- 
ever" the  "good  name  of  bombardment."®^ 

236 


THE    DAYLIGHT   BOMBING  EXPERIMENT 

It  would  [he  wrote  to  General  Stratemeyer  somewhat  earlier  in  October]  have 
been  very  easy  for  us  to  commit  the  force  in  such  a  way  that  improper  con- 
clusions would  have  been  drawn  from  day  bombardment.  We  knew  the  critical 
aspect  of  our  task  and  the  fact  that  it  might  affect  the  whole  future  of  day 

bombardment  in  this  war  The  way  we  are  doing  it  we  are  going  to  draw 

conclusions— some  have  already  been  drawn— which  will  be  entirely  favorable 
to  the  power  of  bombardment.  Please  do  not  let  anybody  get  the  idea  that  we 
are  hesitant,  fearful,  laggard  or  lazy. 

In  other  words,  these  early  missions  were  less  important  for  what  they 
contributed  directly  to  the  Allied  war  effort  than  for  what  they  con- 
tributed indirectly  by  testing  and  proving  the  doctrine  of  strategic 
daylight  bombing.  In  either  instance  it  was  as  difficult  and  dangerous 
to  strive  for  quick  results  as  it  was  natural  for  observers,  especially 
those  at  some  distance  from  the  scene  of  operations,  to  look  impa- 
tiently for  them. 

Nenjo  Directives 

On  20  and  29  October  1942,  Eighth  Air  Force  received  two  signifi- 
cant directives  governing  the  scope  of  its  operations  and  the  priority  of 
its  targets.  The  directive  of  20  October,  issued  by  General  Eisenhower 
as  theater  commander  and  acting  as  agent  for  the  CCS  in  the  matter  of 
bombing  policy,  did  nothing  more  than  the  directives  issued  during 
August  to  clarify  the  strategic  policy  underlying  the  daylight  bombing 
operations— its  relation,  for  example,  to  a  joint  British- American  offen- 
sive such  as  had  been  adumbrated  in  the  Joint  Directif  of  8  September. 
It  did,  however,  reflect  the  immediate  urgency  of  TORCH  as  the  cur- 
rently important  item  of  Allied  strategy. 

In  order  to  move  the  huge  amounts  of  men,  supplies,  and  equipment 
from  the  United  Kingdom  to  North  Africa,  it  was  necessary  to  protect 
that  movement  from  both  submarine  and  aircraft  attack.  Accordingly, 
General  Eisenhower  required  the  Eighth  Air  Force,  as  a  matter  of  first 
priority,  to  attack  the  submarine  bases  on  the  west  coast  of  France  from 
which  the  major  portion  of  the  German  Atlantic  U-boat  fleet  oper- 
ated: Lorient,  St.  Nazaire,  Brest,  La  Pallice,  and  Bordeaux.  Secondary 
targets  for  missions  against  the  above  bases  would  consist  of  shipping 
and  docks  at  Le  Havre,  Cherbourg,  and  St.  Malo.  In  second  priority 
came  the  aircraft  factories  and  repair  depots  at  Meaulte,  Gosselies, 
Antwerp,  and  Courcelles  and  the  airfields  referred  to  as  Cour- 
trai/Wevelghem,  Abbeville/Drucat,  St.  Omer/Fort  Rouge,  Cher- 
bourg/Maupertuis,  Beaumont/Le  Roger,  and  St.  Omer/Longuenesse. 


237 


THE  ARMY   AIR   FORGES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

Transportation  targets  and  marshalling  yards  in  occupied  countries 
were  left  in  third  place.*^ 

This  directive  committed  the  Eighth  Air  Force  for  the  immediate 
future  to  the  support  of  TORCH,  By  naming  enemy  submarine  bases 
as  targets  of  first  priority  it  also  committed  the  Eighth  indefinitely  to 
strategic  bombing  of  an  essentially  defensive  order  in  place  of  the 
direct  offensive  attack  on  the  industrial  vitals  of  the  German  war 
machine.  The  increasing  submarine  menace  threatened  the  entire  logis- 
tical plan  for  Allied  operations  in  Europe  and  Africa.  It  constituted 
Germany's  most  powerful  weapon  against  the  Allies'  ocean-borne 
forces  and  supplies.  It  had,  as  a  result,  featured  conspicuously  in  Allied 
strategic  planning  during  the  fall  of  1942.  The  early  directives  issued  to 
the  Eighth  had  all  included  submarine  targets.  On  1 3  October,  General 
Eisenhower  informed  General  Spaatz  that  he  considered  the  defeat  of 
the  submarine  "to  be  one  of  the  basic  requirements  to  the  winning  of 
the  war."  He  appreciated  the  importance  of  striking  the  GAF  but,  as 
he  made  clear  in  subsequent  discussions,  that  objective  must  be  consid- 
ered as  an  intermediate  one,  something  that  must  be  dealt  with  in  order 
to  get  at  the  primary  objective  which  must  be  the  enemy  submarine 
fleet— at  least  for  the  duration  of  the  North  African  operation.^^  It  was 
a  new  point  of  view  for  the  Eighth;  earlier  plans  had  called  submarine 
installations— like  the  Luftwaffe— an  "intermediate"  objective. 

Conferences  between  American  and  RAF  commanders  resulted  in 
general  agreement  that,  inasmuch  as  the  British  bombing  force  could 
not  operate  against  bases  in  the  Bay  of  Biscay  during  daylight  hours 
owing  to  limitations  of  equipment  and  since  night  bombing  of  such 
targets  would  be  ineffective,  they  should  be  left  to  the  daylight  bomb- 
ers of  the  Eighth  Air  Force.  Meanwhile,  the  RAF  Bomber  Command 
would  operate  against  submarine  manufacturing  centers  and  other 
allied  installations  in  Germany  itself.  Spaatz  and  Eaker  were  both  con- 
fident that  their  heavy  bombers  could  do  the  job.  It  would,  of  course, 
involve  penetrations  beyond  the  range  of  fighter  protection,  but  ex- 
perience to  date  with  enemy  fighters  had  been  encouraging.  Still,  rela- 
tively heavy  casualties  would  have  to  be  accepted;  and  heavier  losses 
would  probably  postpone  seriously  current  designs  for  bombing 
Germany  proper."^ 

On  29  October,  the  Eighth  Air  Force  received  still  another  directive, 
this  time  regulating  its  missions  against  targets  in  occupied  countries. 
The  problem  with  which  this  paper  dealt  was  a  delicate  one.  Objectives 

238 


THE   DAYLIGHT   BOMBING  EXPERIMENT 

vital  to  Germany's  war  effort  existed  in  occupied  France  and  the  Low 
Countries,  and  it  had  been  a  point  of  tactical  policy  to  restrict  American 
bombing  effort  to  these  areas.  But  it  was  impossible,  even  with  greater 
precision  than  the  U.S.  bombers  were  as  yet  capable  of,  to  insure  the 
safety  of  civilians  ^  d  their  property  in  the  neighborhood  of  the  tar- 
gets. Thus,  there  arose  a  political  problem  which  threatened  radically 
to  affect  bombardment  plans. 

In  an  effort  to  prepare  the  French  population,  some  warning  had 
been  given  by  radio.  On  7  October  1 942 ,  two  days  before  the  Lille  raid, 
the  British  Broadcasting  Company  included  in  its  broadcasts  to  Europe 
a  message  of  warning  from  the  American  high  command.  AAF  bomb- 
ing, it  stated,  was  aimed  only  at  Nazis  and  those  activities  in  France  and 
other  occupied  territory  which  helped  support  the  German  war  effort. 
It  advised  all  French  people  living  within  two  kilometers  of  factories 
supporting  the  German  war  machine  to  vacate  their  homes,  since 
bombing  small  targets  from  great  altitudes  would  doubtless  be  attended 
by  some  inaccuracy.  Targets  especially  liable  to  attack  were  factories 
manufacturing  or  repairing  aircraft,  tanks,  vehicles,  locomotives,  fire- 
arms, or  chemicals.  Railway  marshalling  yards,  shipyards,  submarine 
pens,  airdromes,  and  troop  concentration  centers  were  also  likely 
to  be  bombed. 

French  opinion  had  nevertheless  been  deeply  stirred  as  a  result  of  the 
bombing  at  Rouen,  at  Lille,  and  again  at  Lorient,  in  each  of  which 
civilian  French  casualties  had  been  distressing,  if  not  always  extremely 
numerous;  at  Rouen  some  140  were  killed,  at  Lille  approximately  40, 
and  at  Lorient  a  few  Frenchmen  were  numbered  among  the  150  dead, 
more  than  half  of  whom  were  Germans,  the  rest  Belgian  and  Dutch.®^ 
Naturally  the  French  viewed  the  bombing  of  their  cities  with  mixed 
emotions,  the  mixture  varying  pretty  much  with  the  severity  of  their 
own  losses.  Although  generally  happy  in  a  grim  sort  of  way  to  see  any 
damage  dealt  the  Nazis,  even  in  their  own  land,  many  Frenchmen 
found  it  hard  to  take  a  long-term  view  of  the  situation  when  American 
bombs  fell  on  French  property  and  took  French  lives.  The  Germans 
leaped  at  this  opportunity  to  poison  French  minds  against  the  Allies, 
covering  walls  with  posters  which  featured  the  civilian  deaths  and 
civilian  sufferings  attendant  upon  the  American  bombing.  The  con- 
trolled press  did  its  best  to  keep  the  bitterness  alive.  Even  those  who  un- 
derstood the  strategic  necessity  for  the  Allied  bombing  felt  that,  in 
planning  such  missions,  the  sorrow  and  destruction  suffered  by  the 

239 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES  IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


French  should  be  carefully  weighed  against  the  doubtful  results  to  be 
attained  from  bombing  at  extremely  high  altitudes.  It  was  on  this  point 
that  most  French  criticism  seemed  to  be  concentrated  in  the  fall  of 
194Z.  French  observers  could  not  help  believing  that  as  long  as  bomb- 
ing attacks  were  made  at  25,000  feet  only  a  small  percentage  of  bombs 
were  likely  to  hit  the  target;  and  results  had  not  as  yet  been  such  as  to 
persuade  them  to  the  contrary.®^  Some  also  urged,  apparently  quite  seri- 
ously, that  bombing  of  factories  and  shipyards  should  be  done  only  on 
Sundays  and  holidays  when  French  workmen  would  be  absent.®® 

It  was  in  an  effort  to  bring  up  to  date  a  code  of  rules  for  operations  in 
this  delicate  but  unavoidable  situation  that  the  Air  Ministry,  to  whom 
the  responsibility  for  such  political  matters  was  customarily  left,  issued 
the  directive  of  29  October,  Bombardment  was  to  be  confined  to  mili- 
tary objectives.  The  intentional  bombardment  of  civilian  populations, 
as  such,  was  forbidden.  It  must  be  possible  to  identify  the  objective. 
The  attack  must  be  made  with  reasonable  care  to  avoid  undue  loss  of 
civilian  life  in  the  vicinity  of  the  target,  and  if  any  doubt  existed  as  to 
the  possibility  of  accurate  bombing  or  if  a  large  error  would  involve  the 
risk  of  serious  damage  to  a  populated  area  no  attack  was  to  be  made. 
The  provisions  of  Red  Cross  conventions  were,  of  course,  to  be  ob- 
served. Military  objectives  were  defined  broadly  to  include  any  sort  of 
industrial,  power,  or  transportation  facility  essential  to  military  ac- 
tivity. The  only  other  important  restrictions  were  against  attacks  on 
passenger  trains  during  daylight  hours  and  on  power  stations  in 
Holland,  the  destruction  of  which  would  cause  extensive  flooding  of 
the  land  by  putting  out  of  action  electrically  driven  pumps.  Special 
consideration  was  to  be  given  to  the  Channel  Islands,  should  attacks  oh 
enemy  installations  there  become  necessary.  In  conclusion,  the  direc- 
tive stressed  that  none  of  the  foregoing  rules  should  apply  in  the  con- 
duct of  air  warfare  against  German,  Italian,  or  Japanese  territory,  ex- 
cept that  the  provisions  of  Red  Cross  conventions  were  still  to  be  ob- 
served, for  "consequent  upon  the  enemy's  adoption  of  a  campaign  of 
unrestricted  air  warfare,  the  Cabinet  have  authorized  a  bombing  policy 
which  includes  the  attack  on  enemy  morale."®^ 

The  directives  of  20  and  29  October  regulated  the  operations  of  the 
American  bombing  force  in  the  United  Kingdom  substantially  for  the 
remainder  of  the  year.  Except  for  the  reinstatement  on  2 1  October 
of  the  Ford  and  General  Motors  truck  assembly  plants  at  Antwerp  as 
targets  of  no  particular  priority  but  suitable  for  attack  when  weather 

240 


THE   DAYLIGHT   BOMBING  EXPERIMENT 


conditions  proved  unfavorable  elsewhere,  the  only  major  addition  to 
the  priority  list  was  made  on  19  November.  On  that  date  the  U-boat 
construction  yards  at  Bremen,  Vegesack,  and  Kiel  and  transportation 
objectives  at  Essen  and  Hamm  were  added.  This  inclusion  of  German 
targets  reflected  the  impatience  of  the  American  command  to  attack 
Germany  proper  rather  than  to  continue  the  task,  always  in  some 
degree  distasteful,  of  bombing  targets  in  France,  Belgium,  and  Holland. 
It  also  reflected  impatience  on  the  part  of  the  British  Air  Staff,  which 
since  early  November  had  been  showing  concern  over  the  failure  of 
the  Eighth  Air  Force  to  begin  operations  against  the  Reich.  The  target 
revision  of  19  November  was,  however,  to  remain  for  the  rest  of  the 
year  a  paper  change  only,  for  it  was  not  until  the  end  of  January  1943 
that  the  American  bombers  finally  penetrated  the  Reich.  Only  then 
did  the  Eighth  feel  that  it  had  a  suflficient  force  adequately  trained  to 
attempt  so  formidable  a  task.^**** 


241 


CHAPTER  8 
*********** 


THE  WAR  AGAINST  THE 
SUB  PENS 

SUBMARINES  became  the  primary  concern  of  the  Eighth  Air 
Force  after  20  October  1942  and  continued  to  preoccupy  that 
organization  until  June  1943.  In  the  fall  of  1942,  however,  it 
was  not  at  all  clear  whether  striking  the  submarine  operating  bases  on 
the  coast  of  France,  as  the  directive  of  20  October  stipulated,  was  an 
efficient  method  of  reducing  the  submarine  menace;  nor  was  it  clear 
that  the  day  bombers  could  do  that  job  effectively.  The  entire  anti- 
submarine campaign  constituted,  in  fact,  a  highly  controversial  prob- 
lem, and  one  in  which  the  essential  data  became  too  often  obscured  by 
the  mysterious  activities  of  that  most  mysterious  of  the  enemy  services. 
On  the  basis  of  information  no  doubt  unavoidably  insufficient,  the 
Eighth  Air  Force  became  committed  to  a  protracted  campaign  against 
the  submarine  operating  bases  on  the  French  coast,  which  campaign, 
though  unquestionably  inconvenient  and  harassing  to  the  enemy, 
proved  on  final  analysis  to  have  had  no  appreciable  effect  on  the  rate  of 
U-boat  operations.* 

To  those  who  had  to  cope  with  the  steadily  increasing  submarine 
threat,  several  alternative  courses  of  action  suggested  themselves,  no 
one  of  which  promised  by  itself  to  be  entirely  satisfactory.  It  would 
have  been  very  natural  for  strategic  bombing  forces  to  have  concen- 
trated their  efforts  on  the  sources  of  the  submarine  fleet,  as  they  planned 
to  concentrate  on  the  sources  of  the  entire  German  war  machine.  The 
submarine  construction  yards  and  the  component  parts  manufacturing 
plants  provided  tempting  objectives,  the  complete  destruction  of 
which  would  eventually  solve  the  U-boat  problem.  The  RAF  had 

*  See  below,  pp.  251-54. 

242 


THE   WAR    AGAINST   THE    SUB  PENS 

already  expended  a  not  inconsiderable  and  sustained  effort  in  this  direc- 
tion. Although  few  and  light  in  the  fall  of  1942,  British  Bomber  Com- 
mand attacks  during  the  fifteen  months  from  April  1941  to  June  1942 
had  damaged  the  ports  of  Rostock,  Liibeck,  and  Emden  and  had  dealt 
heavy  blows  to  facilities  at  Bremen,  Hamburg,  Wilhelmshaven,  Kiel, 
and  Bremerhaven.  In  addition,  the  submarine  Diesel  factory  at  Augs- 
burg and  the  component  parts  factories  in  Cologne  had  suffered  in  the 
attacks  on  those  cities.^ 

The  British  effort  had,  however,  been  directed  primarily  against  the 
towns  themselves  rather  than  against  the  port  facilities  and  factories,  in 
accordance  with  the  RAF  policy  of  area  bombing.  It  was  the  opinion 
of  the  Ministry  of  Economic  Warfare  in  July  of  1942  that,  apart  from 
damage  to  the  plant  at  Augsburg  which  was  supposed  to  be  producing 
up  to  50  per  cent  of  the  total  submarine  Diesel  engine  requirements, 
little  severe  damage  had  been  inflicted  on  component  factories.  In  that 
instance,  it  estimated,  probably  one  month's  output  had  been  lost, 
amounting  to  the  Diesel  requirements  for  ten  submarines.  As  for  the 
construction  yards,  repeated  attacks  on  Wilhelmshaven,  Kiel,  Ham- 
burg, and  Emden  had  resulted  in  no  detectable  decrease  in  U-boat  pro- 
duction, although  the  estimated  schedule  appeared  to  have  been  delayed 
by  a  few  weeks  as  a  result  of  a  variety  of  factors,  not  all  of  which  could 
be  identified  with  the  bombing  offensive.  This  same  agency  further 
contended  that  these  objectives  were  not  well  suited  to  aerial  bombard- 
ment. Component  parts  plants  were  numerous,  widely  scattered,  often 
inaccessible  from  the  United  Kingdom,  hard  to  identify,  and  of  a  type 
difficult  to  destroy  except  by  attacks  of  "exceptional  weight  and  con- 
centration." Moreover,  it  was  reported  that  a  surplus  of  suitable  pro- 
ductive capacity  existed.  The  shipyards  presented  targets  too  small,  too 
isolated  from  other  suitable  objectives,  and  of  a  type  not  easily  enough 
put  permanently  out  of  action  to  warrant  a  major  share  of  the  bombing 
effort.  On  the  other  hand,  their  proximity  to  the  British  air  bases  made 
them  always  useful  secondary  objectives.^ 

The  increased  accuracy  possible  with  precision  bombing  by  day 
promised  greater  effectiveness  in  attacks  on  targets  of  this  nature.  But 
even  so,  there  was  little  hope  of  an  immediate  effect  on  submarine 
operations.  It  was  estimated  in  August  1942  that  the  submarine  fleet 
consisted  of  some  240  operational  craft,  with  1 20  training  in  the  Baltic. 
Production  at  that  date  was  believed  to  be  in  the  neighborhood  of 
twenty  per  month,  ten  to  fifteen  a  month  becoming  operational;  and 

243 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


sinkings  by  Allied  agencies  were  currently  at  the  rate  of  from  five  to 
seven  a  month.  It  appeared,  therefore,  that  no  amount  of  damage  done 
to  the  submarine  construction  yards  and  factories  could  reduce  the 
operating  fleet  during  the  ensuing  nine  months;  indeed,  it  was  antic- 
ipated that  accessions  from  the  force  in  training  would  add  to  the  fleet 
eight  to  ten  U-boats  each  month  during  that  period.^  Bombing  attacks 
on  production  facilities  could  have  only  a  long-term  effect  on  opera- 
tions, and  in  the  fall  of  1942  the  Allies  were  in  no  position  to  wait  until 
the  U-boat  fleet  perished  from  attrition. 

With  plans  for  the  opening  of  an  African  campaign  in  November, 
the  element  of  time  became  of  the  most  urgent  importance.  If  the  Allies 
were  effectively  to  supply  the  United  Kingdom,  the  Middle  East,  and 
North  Africa,  it  was  clear  that  something  drastic  would  have  to  be  done 
for  the  restriction  of  enemy  submarine  operations,*  and  one  of  the  more 
favorable  opportunities  seemed  to  be  offered  by  the  enemy's  operating 
bases  on  the  western  coast  of  France.  The  Germans  had  begun,  imme- 
diately after  the  defeat  of  France,  to  develop  facilities  at  Brest,  Lorient, 
St.  Nazaire,  La  Pallice,  and  Bordeaux  in  order  to  place  the  submarines 
as  close  as  possible  to  Atlantic  supply  lines  and  as  far  as  possible  from 
British  airfields.  They  had  constructed  elaborate  pens  to  house  and 
protect  these  craft  during  their  stay  in  port  and  had  built  extensive 
repair  and  servicing  facilities.  Elaborate  also  was  the  schedule  of  turn- 
around by  means  of  which  a  limited  number  of  pens  could  be  made  to 
accommodate  a  large  and  growing  fleet  of  submarines.*^ 

Since  the  middle  of  1942  the  RAF  Coastal  Command  had  concen- 
trated a  considerable  part  of  its  antisubmarine  forces  in  patrols  over  the 
Bay  of  Biscay.  Practically  all  units  of  the  Atlantic  submarine  fleet  had 
to  pass  through  the  Bay  of  Biscay  on  the  way  to  and  from  their  French 
bases,  and  there  thus  existed  a  constantly  high  concentration  of  sub- 
marines in  the  bay  and  its  approaches.  By  covering  this  transit  area  with 
long-range  aerial  patrols,  Coastal  Command  hoped  either  to  destroy  a 
significant  number  of  submarines  by  direct  attack  or,  by  forcing  them 
to  remain  submerged  for  long  periods,  to  reduce  substantially  their 
effective  time  in  the  open  sea.  As  yet,  the  effort  suffered  from  lack  of 
enough  long-range  aircraft,  lack  of  a  "balanced"  antisubmarine  force 
capable  of  attacking  both  by  day  and  night,  and  lack  of  adequate  radar 
equipment  and  special  weapons.  Actual  "kills"  had  been  relatively 
few,®  but  great  hopes  had  been  placed  in  an  increased  and  improved 
Bay  of  Biscay  offensive. 

244 


THE    WAR    AGAINST   THE    SUB  PENS 


A  logical  development  of  that  offensive  was  the  employment  of 
Eighth  Air  Force  bombers  against  the  enemy's  operating  bases.  It  was 
considered  practically  impossible  to  penetrate  with  any  bombs  then 
available  the  dozen  or  more  feet  of  reinforced  concrete  that  formed 
the  roof  of  the  U-boat  pens.'^  But  it  was  believed  that  the  facilities  at 
these  bases  were  so  integrated,  and  the  time  schedule  for  repair  and 
refitting  so  carefully  adjusted,  that  any  damage  to  the  installations  sur- 
rounding the  pens  would  cause  serious  delay  in  turn-around  and  so,  in 
effect,  reduce  the  number  of  submarines  in  operation.  Locks,  floating 
docks,  storage  depots,  railway  yards,  powerhouses,  foundries,  barracks, 
and  submarines  not  actually  in  the  pens  all  appeared  to  present  vulner- 
able targets  for  bombing  aircraft— especially  for  bombers  equipped  for 
precision  operations.®  It  was  considered  very  probable  that  much  of 
the  servicing  had  been  put  under  concrete  along  with  the  submarines 
themselves  and  that  alternative  power  installations  existed  which  could 
be  used  to  relieve  most  emergencies  affecting  the  power  system.  It  was 
certain  that  the  bases  would  be  given  powerful  antiaircraft  protection.® 
Yet  the  prospect  of  disorganizing  the  U-boat  campaign  by  harassing 
attacks  on  vital  points,  and  eventually  of  neutralizing  them,  seemed 
reasonably  bright.^^  General  Eaker  in  October  expressed  confidence 
that,  given  ten  heavy  bombardment  groups,  the  VIII  Bomber  Com- 
mand could  effectively  deny  to  the  enemy  the  use  of  five  Biscay  bases.^^ 
The  Air  Ministry  in  August  had  declared  itself  in  favor  of  operations 
against  the  U-boats  at  sea  and  against  their  operating  bases,  in  prefer- 
ence to  the  long-term  policy  of  attacks  against  building  yards  and 
factories.^^ 

Opinion  in  Washington  was  divided  on  the  use  of  long-range,  land- 
based  aircraft  in  antisubmarine  operations.  The  U.S.  Navy  favored 
extended  convoy  cover  as  the  most  effective  use  of  this  type  of  plane, 
but  it  also  had  advocated  air  attack  on  the  operating  bases  as  a  helpful 
auxiliary  measure.*  Those  actively  identified  with  the  AAF  Antisub- 
marine Command  argued  for  employing  as  many  B-24's  as  possible  on 
such  projects  as  that  already  being  conducted  by  the  RAF  Coastal 
Command  in  the  Bay  of  Biscay.  But  Brig.  Gen.  C.  W.  Russell,  AAF 
coordinator  for  antisubmarine  activity,  on  3  November  placed  primary 
emphasis  on  attacks  against  the  operating  bases  and  construction  yards 
by  heavy  bombers  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force,  a  policy  which  AC/AS, 
Plans  indorsed.^^ 

*  See  below,  chap.  12, 

245 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

The  choice  between  operating  bases  and  construction  yards  as  tar- 
gets for  Eighth  Air  Force  operations  was  for  the  time  being  simple 
enough.  A  campaign  against  the  French  bases  was  especially  well  suited 
to  the  capabilities  and  limitations  of  the  American  bomber  force.  Not 
only  were  the  targets  much  better  adapted  to  daylight  precision 
methods  than  to  those  of  the  RAF  night  bombers,  they  were  also  within 
the  area  of  occupied  France  to  which  Eighth  Air  Force  operations  had 
been  temporarily  restricted.  Accordingly,  General  Spaatz  pledged  the 
maximum  use  of  his  force  against  the  U-boat  bases.  At  the  same  time, 
he  made  available  to  Coastal  Command  twelve  B-24's  to  help  cover  the 
movement  of  shipping  to  Africa  by  expanding  the  system  of  long- 
range  air  patrols  over  the  sea  lanes.^^ 

The  German  Submarine  Bases 

The  VIII  Bomber  Command  flew  its  first  mission  against  the  sub- 
marine bases  on  21  October,  when  it  dispatched  ninety  bombers 
(sixty-six  B-17's  and  twenty-four  B-24's)  to  attack  the  enemy  base  at 
Lorient-Keroman.  The  objective  was  a  small  fishing  port,  situated 
about  one  and  one-half  miles  southwest  of  Lorient  on  the  Brest  penin- 
sula, which  the  Germans  had  developed  as  a  major  submarine  base. 
Principal  targets  were  the  U-boat  shelters:  twelve  completed  ones  and 
a  block  of  seven  pens  then  under  construction.  Typical  of  their  kind, 
these  shelters  had  been  built  on  dry  land,  then  connected  with  the 
harbor  by  channels,  and  provided  with  heavily  reinforced  concrete 
roofs.  Immediately  adjacent  to  the  pens  stood  lighter  and  smaller  build- 
ings believed  at  that  time  to  contain  workshops,  transformers,  oil  stor- 
age, offices,  and  other  installations  directly  connected  with  the  servic- 
ing of  U-boats.  Lorient  had  not  been  attacked  by  the  RAF  during 
1942,  nor  had  the  British  ever  attacked  the  area  of  the  submarine  pens. 
In  1941  they  had  made  thirty-three  night  raids,  dropping  396.1  tons 
of  bombs,  mainly  on  the  town  itself  .^^ 

Though  bad  weather  on  21  October  forced  all  but  fifteen  B-17's  of 
the  experienced  97  th  Group  to  turn  back  before  reaching  the  target, 
the  bombing  was  unusually  good.  From  a  17,500-foot  altitude—a  con- 
siderable departure  from  the  22,000-  to  27,000-foot  level  usually 
reached— the  bombers  dropped  thirty  high-explosive  bombs,  each 
weighing  one  ton.  With  the  exception  of  a  few  which  fell  some  1,100 
yards  from  the  pens,  most  of  the  bombs  fell  in  the  immediate  target 
area.  Of  the  thirty  dropped,  twenty-one  fell  within  a  radius  of  1,000 
246 


THE    WAR    AGAINST    THE    SUB  PENS 


feet  from  the  aiming  point.^®  Five  bombs  were  reported  by  ground 
observers  to  have  hit  the  central  block  of  shelters;  but,  according  to  a 
French  underground  informant,  they  did  not  penetrate  more  than  five 
feet  despite  their  weight.  Among  the  surrounding  buildings,  the  results 
were  somewhat  better.  Three  general  workshops  and  a  pair  of  floating 
docks  were  pretty  thoroughly  destroyed  and  two  submarines  were 
damaged  by  blast.  Of  the  150  reported  killed,  more  than  half  were 
German  workmen  and  about  40  were  French." 

Although  little  major  damage  was  done  to  the  base  itself,  the  bomb- 
ing made  a  great  impression  on  both  French  and  German  opinion. 
For  once,  the  French  people  appear  to  have  compared  an  attack  by 
U.S.  forces  favorably  with  those  made  by  the  British.  They  seem  to 
have  been  greatly  pleased  with  the  whole  affair,  standing  in  the  streets, 
watching  and  smiling  and  applauding  the  accuracy  with  which  the 
Americans  dropped  bombs  on  the  German  installations.  It  was,  they 
felt,  too  bad  that  Frenchmen  had  also  to  be  killed,  but  the  victims  had 
asked  for  their  fate  in  accepting  employment  at  the  base  for  the  sake 
of  the  high  wages  paid  there.  As  for  the  Germans,  they  appear  to  have 
been  taken  completely  by  surprise.  The  alarm  was  not  sounded,  and 
the  bombs  had  fallen  before  the  antiaircraft  guns  went  into  action.  The 
Germans  were  said  to  have  been  convinced  that  a  formation  of  such 
size—fifteen  aircraft— could  only  have  been  their  own  planes.  The  mis- 
sion temporarily  discredited  the  Quislings,  who  had  insisted  that  Allied 
attacks  were  being  made  deliberately  against  the  civilian  French  popu- 
lation and  that  the  base  was  too  well  defended  to  be  attacked.  The  con- 
trolled press  remained  silent.^^ 

Despite  the  fact  that  the  defenses  at  Lorient  were  caught  napping 
and  although  the  attacking  force  encountered  no  effective  flak,  they 
did  run  into  stiff  resistance  from  enemy  fighters.  As  the  formation 
crossed  the  enemy  coast  en  route  to  the  target,  it  met  thirty-six 
FW-190's  which  gave  it  continuous  battle  to  a  point  not  far  from  the 
objective.  The  bombers  acquitted  themselves  well  but  lost  three  of 
their  number.^* 

With  this  mission  and  these  losses  in  mind,  General  Spaatz  wrote  in 
pessimistic  vein  to  General  Arnold  on  3 1  October:  "Whether  or  not 
these  operations  will  prove  too  costly  for  the  results  obtained  remains 
to  be  seen.  The  concrete  submarine  pens  are  hard,  maybe  impossible 
nuts  to  crack."  "However,''  he  added,  "the  bombing  of  the  surround- 
ing installations  should  seriously  handicap  the  effective  use  of  the 

247 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


bases,"^°  General  Spaatz  had,  in  fact,  undertaken  this  task  with  more 
determination  than  relish  or  optimism.  It  was  not  only  a  regrettable,  if 
necessary,  diversion  of  effort  from  the  main  mission  of  his  force;  it  was 
also  a  job  that  would  probably  require  the  use  of  tactics  very  different 
from  those  for  which  his  units  had  been  trained.  As  early  as  1 5  Septem- 
ber 1942  he  had  expressed  concern  over  this  problem.  Assuming  that 
the  pens  themselves  would  be  virtually  impervious  to  normal  high-alti- 
tude bombing  and  that  they  constituted  the  vital  spot  in  the  base  instal- 
lations, he  predicted  that  if  the  bases  were  to  be  put  out  of  operation 
some  tactics  in  addition  to  ordinary  high-level  bombing  would  have 
to  be  used.^^ 

By  the  end  of  October,  General  Spaatz  was  ready  to  operate  against 
the  submarine  bases  from  lower  altitudes.  Evidently  convinced  that 
bombing  from  above  the  20,000-foot  level,  as  practiced  heretofore, 
was  not  likely  to  yield  accurate  enough  results  to  neutralize  small  tar- 
gets, he  planned  to  operate  at  altitudes  possibly  as  low  as  4,000  feet. 
In  that  event,  he  warned,  much  higher  casualties  than  any  so  far  sus- 
tained would  have  to  be  faced,  for  the  objectives  would  certainly  be 
heavily  defended  by  antiaircraft.  Other  factors,  he  believed,  would  also 
lead  toward  a  higher  casualty  rate.  Low  altitudes  would  favor  enemy 
fighters.  Since  the  French  bases  were  beyond  the  range  of  available 
fighter  escort  (no  P-38's  or  P-47's  were  available),  the  bombers  would 
be  without  fighter  support  over  the  objective.  Finally,  the  crews  left 
after  the  assignment  of  the  97th  and  301st  Groups  to  the  Twelfth  Air 
Force  were  by  no  means  seasoned,  especially  the  gunners.^^ 

On  9  November  the  VIII  Bomber  Command  flew  a  mission  at  very 
much  reduced  altitude  against  the  submarine  installations  at  St.  Nazaire. 
If  it  had  been  seriously  expected  that  attacks  at  lower  altitudes  would 
increase  effectiveness  without  at  the  same  time  producing  prohibitive 
losses,  those  hopes  were  effectively  dampened  by  the  experiment.^^ 
Thanks  to  a  well-planned  course  and  a  large  diversionary  mission  flown 
by  the  RAF,  the  fighter  threat,  heretofore  the  more  serious,  was  cir- 
cumvented, but  the  same  could  not  be  said  of  the  antiaircraft  batteries 
concentrated  in  the  neighborhood  of  St.  Nazaire.^^  The  twelve  attack- 
ing B-24's,  flying  at  17,500  to  18,300  feet,  suffered  little,  but  the  thirty- 
one  B-17's,  flying  at  7,500  to  10,000  feet,  fared  badly.  In  the  neighbor- 
hood of  St.  Nazaire  they  ran  into  very  intense  flak,  extremely  accurate 
both  in  altitude  and  deflection;  at  10,000  feet  both  light  and  heavy  fire 
was  reported,  of  considerable  intensity  and  accuracy.  As  a  result  of  this 

248 


GERMAN  SUB  PEN,  LORIENT 


EIGHTH  AIR  FORCE  ATTACK  ON  LORIENT*     Mil^Y  19*3 


BATTLE  CASUALTIES,  EIGHTH  AIR  FORCE 


INTERROGATION,  jSiST  GROUP,  SUMMER  1943 


THE   WAR    AGAINST    THE    SUB  PENS 


barrage,  three  aircraft  were  lost  and  twenty-two  others  were  damaged 
in  some  degree.^'' 

It  was  a  costly  experiment.  Flak  hitherto  encountered  at  higher  alti- 
tudes had  been  relatively  ineffective,  and  it  was  evident  that  the  cost  of 
low-altitude  bombing  could  be  justified  only  by  appreciably  improved 
accuracy.  Only  some  75  of  the  344  bombs  dropped  could  be  plotted 
from  strike  and  reconnaissance  photographs,  but  of  these,  no  more  than 
8  burst  within  600  feet  of  either  of  the  two  aiming  points— the  shops  of 
Chantiers  et  Ateliers  de  Penhouet  and  the  lock  at  the  entrance  to  the 
Bassin  de  St.  Nazaire.  Considerable  incidental  damage  was  done,  of 
course,  especially  to  rail  facilities.^^ 

This  mission  apparently  convinced  the  Eighth  Air  Force  command 
that  attacks  at  low  altitude  would  not  yield  results  commensurate  with 
the  losses  likely  to  result  from  such  undertakings.  Subsequent  attacks 
on  submarine  bases  were  made  at  altitudes  ranging  from  17,500  to 
22,000  feet  which,  at  least  until  the  mission  against  St.  Nazaire  on 
3  January  1943,  effectively  foiled  antiaircraft  fire.^'' 

Prior  to  3  January  the  VIII  Bomber  Command  conducted  six  more 
missions  against  the  submarine  bases,  concentrating  on  St.  Nazaire  and 
Lorient,  with  one  relatively  light  and  ineffective  attack  devoted  to 
La  Pallice.  A  total  of  1 99  heavy  bombers,  in  missions  varying  in  strength 
from  1 1  to  53  aircraft,  attacked  according  to  a  fairly  consistent  pattern. 
They  approached  the  target  area  overland  across  the  Brest  peninsula 
and,  in  order  to  elude  enemy  fighters,  returned  over  water,  skirting  wide 
around  the  French  coast.  RAF  fighter  forces  provided  support  in  the 
form  of  short-range  escort  and  diversionary  sweeps  over  enemy  terri- 
tory. In  no  instance  did  the  bombers  enjoy  fighter  cover  over  the  target 
area.  Flak  accounted  for  only  one  of  their  number,  although  in  many 
instances  it  caused  minor  damage.  On  four  occasions,  however,  the 
bombers  encountered  stiff  opposition  from  enemy  aircraft,  which  re- 
sulted directly  in  the  loss  of  five  more  planes.  In  addition,  two  bombers 
crashed  and  two  were  lost  to  unknown  causes.^* 

This  over-all  loss  rate  of  less  thaii  5  per  cent  of  the  attacking  forces 
justified,  from  a  defensive  point  of  view,  the  decision  to  abandon 
attacks  at  lower  altitudes.  And  over  against  these  losses  could  be  placed 
the  damage  done  to  the  U-boat  installations.  By  the  end  of  December, 
St.  Nazaire  and  Lorient  were  both  showing  the  cumulative  effect  of 
repeated  bombardment.  Although  the  accuracy  achieved  still  left  much 
to  be  desired,  enough  bombs  had  fallen  within  the  target  areas  to  cause 

249 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


at  least  serious  inconvenience  to  the  enemy.  St.  Nazaire  suffered  espe- 
cially heavy  damage.  In  the  course  of  the  five  missions  from  9 
to  23  November,  158  aircraft  dropped  a  total  of  771,000  pounds  of 
high-explosive  bombs  on  or  in  the  vicinity  of  the  port  facilities.^^  This 
damage  no  doubt  made  it  more  difficult  to  service  and  repair  U-boats. 
According  to  an  account  obtained  from  a  German  naval  prisoner  of 
war,  work  continued  after  the  AAF  raids  only  in  the  submarine  shelters 
which,  though  hit  at  least  six  times,  apparently  suffered  no  lasting  dam- 
age. This  same  informant  spoke  of  large-scale  evacuation  of  the  work- 
ing population,  which  left  barely  enough  hands  to  continue  the  re- 
stricted scale  of  work  required  in  the  U-boat  shelters.  In  one  shop,  he 
said,  200  apprentices  had  been  killed  and,  owing  to  the  lack  of  labor  to 
remove  them,  the  bodies  had  been  left  in  the  rubble.^'' 

The  repeated  attacks  made  by  the  U.S.  forces  at  St.  Nazaire  in 
November  had  apparently  demonstrated  the  virtue  of  concentrated 
effort  in  this  type  of  bombing.  Undoubtedly  St.  Nazaire,  the  most  im- 
portant of  Germany's  Biscay  bases,  had  suffered  heavily.  But  the  rapid 
recovery  of  that  port  after  23  November  appeared  also  to  demonstrate 
that,  if  such  crippling  effects  were  to  last,  attacks  of  similar  weight 
would  have  to  continue  at  a  similar  rate.  No  mission  was  conducted 
against  St.  Nazaire  between  23  November  1942  and  3  January  1943. 
During  that  breathing  period  the  servicing  facilities  were  apparently 
put  once  more  into  running  order.  British  observers  estimated  that  by 
6  December  the  port  was  again  in  full  commission.  In  order  to  retrieve 
the  earlier  successes,  the  VIII  Bomber  Command  struck  St.  Nazaire  on 
3  January  in  the  largest  attack  made  against  the  submarine  bases  to  date. 
Some  sixty-six  aircraft  bombed  the  port,  dropping  342  x  1,000-pound 
high-explosive  bombs.^^ 

Accuracy  on  this  mission  was  better  than  on  most  of  those  since  the 
first  attack  on  Lorient.  The  points  of  burst  of  107  bombs  could  later  be 
identified,  and  of  this  number,  26  were  located  within  1,000  feet  from 
the  aiming  point,  in  this  instance  a  small  torpedo  warehouse  which  was 
hit  and  demolished.  Considerable  damage  was  done  in  the  dock  area.^'^ 
A  ground  report  claimed  that,  for  the  time  being  at  any  rate,  the  works 
of  Penhouet  had  been  put  completely  out  of  action.  Several  bombs  fell 
on  and  around  the  submarine  base  itself,  but  none  penetrated  the  rein- 
forced concrete  roof  and,  except  for  some  windows,  doors,  and  electri- 
cal apparatus  damaged  by  blast  inside  the  shelter,  the  base  escaped 
serious  injury  and  work  proceeded  without  let  or  hindrance.^^ 
250 


THE   WAR   AGAINST   THE    SUB  PENS 


Significant  as  the  results  of  the  bombing  appear  to  have  been,  the 
nature  of  the  opposition  encountered  during  the  mission  gave  Eighth 
Air  Force  observers  even  more  to  think  about.  Heavy  resistance  from 
fighters  over  St.  Nazaire  itself  accounted  for  three  of  the  bombers  lost. 
In  return  for  these  losses,  bomber  crews  were  finally  credited  with 
twelve  of  the  enemy  destroyed,  eighteen  probably  destroyed,  and  four 
damaged.  But  the  greatest  surprise  came  from  the  intensity  and  accu- 
racy of  the  flak  which,  unlike  that  previously  experienced,  was  thrown 
up  in  a  "predicted  barrage''  rather  than  in  an  attempt  to  follow  the 
attacking  force  continuously.  This  unprecedented  fire  destroyed  three 
more  of  the  attacking  planes  and  hit  an  additional  thirty-nine.  In  person- 
nel, the  mission  cost  seventy  men  missing,  five  killed,  nine  seriously 
wounded,  and  twenty-one  slightly  injured.  In  terms  of  aircraft,  the  cost 
was  seven  destroyed  and  forty-seven  damaged.  Although  the  most  suc- 
cessful mission  to  date  against  the  submarine  bases  from  the  standpoint 
of  destruction  to  enemy  installations,  it  was  fully  as  costly  as  the  ill-fated 
low-altitude  attack  of  9  November  against  the  same  objective.^*  Quite 
clearly,  the  submarine  bases  presented  problems  which  U.S.  bombard- 
ment experts  had  yet  to  solve. 

Looking  back  over  this  first  phase  of  the  effort  against  the  U-boat 
bases,  leaders  chiefly  concerned  with  its  prosecution  could  come  to  few 
conclusions  regarding  its  effectiveness;  it  was  easy  enough  to  compile 
and  quote  certain  operational  data;  ground  reports  and  aerial  recon- 
naissance pointed  to  certain  specific  effects  which  have  already  been 
summarized.  But  it  was  much  more  difficult  to  determine  whether  any 
significant  number  of  months  of  U-boat  operations  had  been  denied  the 
enemy  through  these  operations  or  to  what  extent,  if  any,  the  American 
bombing  attacks  had  affected  the  number  of  U-boats  operating  in  the 
Atlantic.  Information  gained  since  the  cessation  of  hostilities  indicates 
that  the  U-boats  active  in  the  Atlantic  were  steadily  increasing  in  num- 
ber during  the  period  in  question.^^ 

Opinion  varied  as  to  the  extent  and  relative  importance  of  the  dam- 
age inflicted  by  the  bombing.  Admiralty  agencies  seemed  to  have  been 
warmly  appreciative  of  the  U.S.  attacks,  if  necessarily  vague  in  specify- 
ing their  reasons.^*  Late  in  November,  Admiral  of  the  Fleet  Sir  Dudley 
Pound,  First  Sea  Lord  and  Chief  of  Naval  Staff,  wrote  General  Eaker 
praising  the  "fine  achievement  of  the  U.S.  A/C  employed  in  the  pre- 
cision bombing  of  the  U/B  bases  in  the  French  Biscay  ports."^^  Gener- 
ally speaking,  the  Admiralty  recommended  intensifying  the  day  offen- 

251 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORGES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

sive  against  the  submarine  bases,  with  concentration  on  the  installations 
in  the  neighborhood  of  the  pens  rather  than  on  the  pens  themselves.''*^ 
Air  Ministry  and  RAF  Bomber  Command  opinion  was  comparatively 
lukewarm.  A  contemporary  Air  Ministry  analysis,  while  granting  that 
the  U.S.  attacks  had  undoubtedly  embarrassed  the  enemy,  placed 
greater  confidence  in  direct  sinkings  of  submarines  by  surface  and  air 
attack  and  in  long-range  antisubmarine  air  patrol  in  the  areas  where 
the  U-boats  operated.  RAF  Bomber  Command  continued  to  advocate 
the  bombing  of  building  yards.^® 

AAF  Headquarters  had  other  misgivings  about  the  bombing  of  sub- 
marine bases.  While  generally  elated  over  the  fact  that  positive  action 
was  at  last  being  taken  against  enemy  installations  by  American  heavy 
bombers,  and  although  especially  pleased  with  the  fine  series  of  attacks 
executed  during  November,***  headquarters  agencies  felt  that  the 
weight  and  nature  of  the  attacks  remained  unequal  to  the  task  of  doing 
"something  drastic"  about  the  menace  that  still  threatened  Allied  sup- 
ply lines.^^  Also  taken  into  account  were  the  relatively  high  losses  sus- 
tained during  the  last  two  missions— lo  aircraft  out  of  a  total  of  io6 
attacking. 

Probably  in  an  effort  to  allay  doubts  in  AAF  Headquarters,  General 
Eaker  had  maintained  a  consistently  optimistic  tone  with  reference  to 
the  campaign  against  the  submarine  bases.  The  losses,  though  unfortu- 
nate, were  to  be  expected  in  operations  conducted  repeatedly  over  the 
same  objectives  and  in  such  a  way  that  the  enemy  could  tell  by  the 
hours  of  daylight  and  by  the  flight  time  to  and  from  the  target  just 
when  the  bombers  would  arrive,  even  if  their  RDF  had  not  already 
given  fighter  and  flak  defenses  sufficient  warning.  Over  against 
these  losses,  which  were  not  actually  prohibitive,  should  be  placed  the 
heavy  toll  taken  of  the  enemy  fighters  by  the  American  bombers.  "We 
are  still  able,"  Eaker  wrote  on  2  January  1943,  "and  shall  continue  to 
knock  down  better  than  6-1  enemy  fighters  for  our  bomber  losses.  This 
is,  we  feel,  an  excellent  exchange."  Furthermore,  improved  tactics 
might  in  the  future  be  expected  to  better  the  situation  materially .^^  The 
operations  of  November  had  confirmed  him  in  the  belief  that  with  ten 
heavy  bomber  groups  he  could  eliminate  a  large  part— possibly  60  per 
cent— of  the  submarine  menace  in  the  Atlantic.  In  January  he  expressed 
the  hope  that  as  soon  as  it  became  possible  for  him  to  put  100  to  120 
bombers  in  the  air  he  would  be  able  to  hit  submarine-building  instaUa- 

252 


THE   WAR   AGAINST   THE    SUB  PENS 

tions  in  Germany  proper  whenever  weather  over  the  Brest  peninsula 
was  unfavorable  for  operations  against  the  bases/^ 

The  U.S.  Navy  contributed  a  more  conservative  estimate,  both  of 
results  and  of  prospects,  and  one  somewhat  nearer  the  truth  as  ulti- 
mately determined.  A  report  from  the  naval  attache  in  London,  for 
example,  compared  the  bombing  of  the  Biscay  pens  and  base  facilities 
unfavorably  with  other  antisubmarine  air  operations,  especially  the  es- 
corting of  threatened  convoys.*^ 

By  January  1943,  two  things  about  the  antisubmarine  bombing  pro- 
gram had  become  clear.  In  the  first  place,  earlier  assumptions  regarding 
the  imperforability  of  the  pens  were  now  borne  out  by  experience. 
Even  with  the  use  of  heavier  armor-piercing  ammunition  it  was  con- 
sidered doubtful  whether  significant  damage  could  be  done  to  the  pen 
blocks.  Consequently,  all  that  could  be  hoped  for  from  bombing  of 
bases  would  be  disorganization  of  the  turn-around  and  servicing  sched- 
ule.^^  Secondly,  in  order  to  paralyze  the  operating  bases  and  so  to  deny 
them  to  the  Germans,  it  would  be  necessary  to  employ  much  larger 
forces  and  to  bomb  much  more  frequently  than  had  hitherto  been 
feasible.  In  answer  to  a  direct  question  from  Washington,  the  head- 
quarters of  Eighth  Air  Force  replied  that  to  neutralize  these  five  bases 
completely  250  sorties  against  each  base  per  week  for  eight  weeks 
would  be  required.'*^  Both  Air  Ministry  and  Admiralty  agreed  in  the 
necessity  for  increased  frequency  of  attack  by  increased  forces,  for  it 
was  not  an  easy  matter  to  inflict  permanent  damage  on  ports,  as  the 
RAF  had  found  out  at  Bengasi  and  the  Germans  at  Malta.'*^ 

The  rest  of  the  problem  remained  in  the  realm  of  opinion.  Did  results 
justify  the  effort  expended  against  the  submarine  bases  and  the  diver- 
sion from  true  strategic  bombing  which  it  involved?  Was  bombing  of 
submarine  bases  the  best  use  of  the  heavy  bombers,  or  even  a  reasonably 
profitable  way  of  reducing  the  submarine  menace?  These  vital  ques- 
tions could  not  as  yet  be  answered  with  any  degree  of  finality.  Involv- 
ing, as  they  did,  comparisons  between  divergent  and  even  opposed 
schools  of  thought  regarding  the  employment  of  heavy  bombers,  any 
tentative  answers  were  unavoidably  colored  by  the  interests  of  the 
evaluating  agencies.  It  was,  however,  generally  recognized  that  no  one 
method  was  likely  to  provide  by  itself  the  solution  to  the  submarine 
problem,  and  opinion  still  gave  the  efforts  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force  a 
prominent,  if  somewhat  indefinite,  place  in  the  antisubmarine  cam- 
paign. The  bombers  may  not  as  yet  have  affected  the  submarine  situa- 

253 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


tion  in  any  major  way,  but  they  had  done  their  job  well  enough  with 
inadequate  forces  to  make  most  observers  believe  that,  properly 
equipped,  they  could  do  it  decisively. 

It  was  not  until  the  end  of  1943  that  USAAF  surveys  of  strategic 
bombing  results  tended  to  confirm  doubts  hitherto  hesitantly  expressed 
regarding  the  value  of  bombing  submarine  bases.  By  that  time  the  sub- 
marine had  been  defeated  in  the  first  round  of  the  battle  of  supply,  and 
it  had  become  apparent  that  attack  from  the  air  against  the  U-boat  at 
sea  had  been  the  most  effective  single  factor  in  reducing  the  German 
submarine  fleet,  and  that  bombing  of  bases  had  contributed  relatively 
little  in  that  direction.  Grand  Adm.  Karl  Doenitz,  who,  as  one-time 
commander  of  the  U-boat  fleet,  was  in  a  unique  position  to  know 
whereof  he  spoke,  later  confirmed  this  opinion  in  an  interview  with 
Allied  intelligence  officers  after  his  capture  in  1945.  Not  only  were  the 
pens  themselves  impervious  to  anything  but  the  heaviest  type  of  bomb, 
he  asserted,  but  they  housed  virtually  all  necessary  repair  and  mainte- 
nance facilities.  Bombing  of  surrounding  installations  did  not  therefore 
seriously  affect  the  rate  of  turn-around.  What  slowed  turn-around 
most  effectively,  he  claimed,  was  the  necessity  for  repairing  the  damage 
done  to  hull  structure  by  aerial-bomb  and  depth-charge  attacks  deliv- 
ered at  sea.^®  Undoubtedly  the  AAF  raids  caused  temporary  disloca- 
tions during  the  early  months  of  the  campaign,  especially  at  St.  Nazaire. 
Clearly,  also,  they  harassed  the  enemy  by  destroying  auxiliary  con- 
struction plants  and  neighboring  railway  facilities  and  in  a  variety  of 
minor  ways,  but  these  were  not  their  primary  purpose. 

Enemy  Aircraft  and  Transportation 

Not  all  Eighth  Air  Force  effort  expended  during  November, 
December,  and  early  January  was  directed  against  the  submarine  bases. 
Those  installations  enjoyed,  or  rather  suffered,  first  priority;  and,  in 
fact,  ten  of  the  fifteen  operations  undertaken  by  the  Eighth  Air  Force 
during  that  period  involved  attacks  on  the  five  Biscay  ports.  But  the 
U.S.  bombers  had  also  been  instructed  to  strike  at  the  German  Air 
Force  and  enemy-operated  transportation  facilities  in  occupied 
countries  as  matters  of  second  and  third  priority  respectively.  Of  the 
407  bombers  dispatched  against  targets  other  than  submarine  bases,  231 
were  detailed  to  attack  airdromes  and  176  to  bomb  targets  of  impor- 
tance to  German  transportation.  Owing  to  the  vagaries  of  the  weather, 
which  on  1 2  December  turned  a  major  effort  against  the  air  installations 

254 


THE   WAR   AGAINST   THE    SUB  PENS 


at  Romilly-sur-Seine  into  a  minor  attack  on  the  Rouen-Sotteville  yards, 
only  89  of  the  236  planes  that  completed  their  mission  dropped  bombs 
on  aircraft  installations,  leaving  by  far  the  heavier  weight  of  attack  for 
transportation.  As  it  happened,  only  one  target  in  each  category  sus- 
tained any  considerable  pounding.  Three  missions  against  Lille  ac- 
counted for  almost  all  the  damage  inflicted  on  transportation,  only  one 
other  attack,  the  slight  and  ineffective  one  against  Rouen-Sotteville  on 
1 2  December,  having  been  executed.  In  the  aircraft  category,  although 
planes  were  sent  three  times  to  the  Abbeville/Drucat  airdrome  and 
once  to  Cherbourg/Maupertuis,  only  the  single  raid  on  Romilly-sur- 
Seine  on  20  December  can  be  classified  as  effective.^® 

At  Lille  the  locomotive  and  rolling-stock  repair  and  construction 
works  of  the  Ateliers  d'Hellemmes  and  of  Fives-Lille  had  been  dam- 
aged in  the  USAAF  attack  of  9  October  1942,  but  had  since  been  ex- 
tensively repaired.'^^  They  still  constituted  a  composite  objective  of  the 
utmost  significance  to  Axis  transportation  chiefly  because  they  served 
as  the  principal  railway  repair  depot  in  France.  RAF  attacks  on  loco- 
motives had  created  a  serious  repair  simation.  Consequently,  the  Lille 
shops  were  being  taxed  to  the  limit  of  their  capacity. It  was  in  the 
hope  of  still  further  constricting  this  bottleneck  that,  on  8  November, 
the  daylight  bombers  were  sent  again  to  Lille*^  where  30  of  them 
dropped  293  x  500-pound  high-explosive  bombs  intended  primarily 
for  the  Hellemmes  shops,  which  had  hitherto  escaped  major  damage. 
The  repair  shop  and  the  machine  shop  both  were  damaged.  Another 
attack,  on  6  December,  by  thirty-six  planes  against  the  same  target 
added  materially  to  the  damage  already  inflicted,  but  it  is  impossible  to 
say  to  what  extent  it  further  retarded  repair  activities.®^  The  heaviest 
attack  against  Lille  came  on  13  January  1943,  when  sixty-four  heavy 
bombers  dropped  approximately  1 25  tons  of  bombs  on  or  in  the  neigh- 
borhood of  the  objectives.  As  a  result  of  this  attack,  repair  work  and 
locomotive  construction  were  seriously  interrupted.  At  Hellemmes,  for 
example,  where  locomotives  awaiting  overhaul  had  been  piling  up  since 
the  American  raid  of  8  November,  work  appears  to  have  come  to  a 
complete  standstill  for  some  time.'*^ 

By  mid- January  1943,  USAAF  bombing  at  Lille,  at  St.  Nazaire 
where  the  locomotive  sheds  had  been  destroyed,  and  at  Rouen-Sotte- 
ville,  combined  with  RAF  attacks  on  locomotive  objectives,  had 
created  a  situation  in  which  Germany  no  longer  could  regard  French 
railway  facilities— developed  before  the  war  in  excess  of  the  demands 

155 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

made  on  them  by  normal  traffic— as  a  source  of  reinforcements  for  her 
own  overtaxed  lines.*^^ 

On  20  December  the  Eighth  Air  Force  made  its  one  effective  attack 
of  the  period  on  the  German  Air  Force  in  a  relatively  large-scale  mis- 
sion against  the  aircraft  park  and  repair  depot  at  Romilly-sur-Seine. 
This  aircraft  depot  and  airdrome,  situated  near  the  river  Seine  some 
sixty-five  miles  southeast  of  Paris,  held  the  reserve  aircraft  of  all  types 
for  the  German  Air  Force  in  France  and  the  Low  Countries  and  did 
much  repair  and  re-equipment.^®  Of  the  loi  bombers  dispatched  on 
this  mission,  72  bombed  the  target  area,  releasing  306,000  pounds  of 
high  explosives  and  25,000  pounds  of  incendiaries.  Results  were  reason- 
ably good.  Damage  was  inflicted  on  hangars,  barrack  huts,  and  aircraft, 
and  138  craters  were  made  on  the  landing  ground,  10  of  them  on  the 
perimeter  or  taxi-tracks.'*'^  Of  considerably  greater  historical  signifi- 
cance, however,  was  the  fact  that,  in  the  course  of  this  deepest  penetra- 
tion yet  made  by  USAAF  planes  into  German-occupied  territory,  the 
bombers  made  contact  with  almost  the  entire  force  of  enemy  fighters 
located  in  northeast  France.  The  ensuing  air  battle  developed  epic  pro- 
portions and  provided  an  important  test  of  the  American  heavy  bomb- 
ers' ability  to  carry  out  unescorted  missions  deep  into  enemy  territory. 

Eight  RAF  and  three  U.S.  fighter  squadrons,  all  flying  Spitfires,  con- 
ducted diversions  over  areas  where  the  German  aircraft  were  known 
to  be  based.  Enemy  reaction  to  these  efforts  amounted  to  probably 
eighty-nine  aircraft,  but  no  encounters  took  place.  In  addition,  35 
Spitfire  IX's  of  the  RAF  escorted  the  bombers  as  far  as  Rouen,  and  107 
provided  cover  for  them  on  their  return  trip.  These  operations  also 
proved  uneventful  for  the  escorting  fighters.^®  It  was  against  the  bomb- 
er force  that  the  Germans  concentrated  the  full  weight  of  their  attack. 
It  may  have  been  that  they  were  prepared  for  just  such  a  mission  as  this, 
for  on  12  December,  the  date  of  the  preceding  American  raid,  the 
bombers  had  flown  toward  Romilly,  intending  to  attack  that  objective, 
but  on  finding  it  closed  in  by  weather  they  had  fallen  back  on  a  target 
of  lower  priority.  At  any  rate,  the  escort  this  time  had  barely  turned 
back  (at  1 1 50  hours)  when  an  estimated  sixty  German  fighters,  mostly 
FW-190's  from  the  Pas  de  Calais  area,  attacked  the  formation.®^  They 
came  in  well  above,  peeled  off,  and  closed  in  from  the  front,  either 
slightly  above,  dead  level,  or  slightly  below.  One  B-17  of  the  91st 
Group  was  observed  to  hit  the  ground  at  Vascoeuil,  and  a  few  minutes 
later  another  B-17  from  the  same  group  began  to  lose  altitude  rapidly 

256 


THE   WAR   AGAINST   THE    SUB  PENS 


with  a  number  of  enemy  fighters  following  it  down.  At  about  1205 
hours,  the  enemy  planes  were  relieved  by  fifty  to  sixty  fresh  fighters 
from  Caen/Bougie,  Paris,  and  possibly  Evreux.  These  planes  continued 
the  fight  almost  to  the  target,  which  was  reached  between  1240  and 
1245.  During  this  phase  of  the  battle  a  number  of  Me-109's  joined  in 
the  attack,  some  approaching  from  above  at  10  or  11  o'clock,  flying 
through  the  formation  and  diving  out  at  3  o'clock.  One  B-17  of  the 
306th  Group  was  hit  about  ten  minutes  before  the  target,  but  it  was  not 
until  a  few  minutes  later  that  it  started  down.^^ 

On  the  return  trip  the  bomber  formation  suffered  almost  continuous 
attack  from  fighters,  most  of  which  had  apparently  taken  part  in  the 
earlier  stages  of  the  engagement  and  were  now  making  second  sorties. 
Two  B-i7*s  of  the  306th  Group  went  down  in  the  vicinity  of  Paris. 
Over  the  Channel  another  bomber,  the  sixth  to  be  lost  on  the  mission, 
went  down  and  was  last  seen  smoking  badly  and  approaching  the 
English  coast  at  very  low  altitude.  In  addition  to  the  six  bombers  lost, 
two  more  were  so  badly  shot  up  that  they  crash-landed  in  England. 
Twenty-nine  others  sustained  damage  in  some  degree.^^ 

These  losses  probably  all  resulted  from  enemy  fighter  action,  for  the 
flak  encountered  proved  consistently  inaccurate  and  ineffective.  The 
losses  were  heavy,  and  they  reflected  the  success  of  the  German  fighter 
pilots  in  adjusting  their  method  of  attack  to  the  peculiarities  of  the 
American  bombers.  It  was  on  23  November,  during  the  attack  on  St. 
Nazaire,  that  the  bomber  crews  had  first  reported  a  change  in  the  direc- 
tion from  which  the  figt^ter  passes  were  launched.®^  Hitherto,  attacks 
had  come  mainly  from  the  rear,  but  as  the  enemy  discovered  that  the 
B-17's  and  B-24's  were  weakest  in  forward  firepower,  he  changed  ab- 
ruptly to  head-on  attacks,  which  during  December  and  January  serious- 
ly embarrassed  the  U.S.  force.®^ 

Interrogation  of  crews  returning  from  Romilly  indicated  that  seven 
enemy  planes  had  been  seen  to  crash,  that  eighteen  broke  up  in  mid-air, 
and  that  twenty-seven  more  went  down  in  flames.  Total  claims  orig- 
inally registered  included  fifty-three  destroyed,  thirteen  probably  de- 
stroyed, and  eight  damaged.^^  These  claims  seemed  to  be  excessive  in 
view  of  the  number  of  aircraft— estimated  at  not  over  1 20—which  could 
have  intercepted.  An  Air  Ministry  analysis  set  probable  figures  for  the 
Romilly  action  at  a  much  lower  level.  Keeping  in  mind  the  heavy  fire- 
power of  the  U.  S.  force,  the  fact  that  this  force  had  been  under  attack 
by  fighters  for  nearly  two  hours,  and  that  the  visual  evidence  of  planes 

257 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 


destroyed— even  allowing  for  duplication  in  claims— pointed  to  heavy 
enemy  losses,  this  report  suggested  thirty  enemy  fighters  destroyed  and 
fifteen  to  twenty  damaged  as  a  not  unreasonable  estimate.®^  Subse- 
quently, VIII  Bomber  Command  itself  lowered  even  this  figure;  the 
revision  of  5  January  listed  claims  of  21/31/7.^^  German  records  sug- 
gest instead  that  the  Americans  shot  down  only  two  planes  and  dam- 
aged a  third.  Three  other  enemy  fighters  lost  that  day  could  be  indirect- 
ly credited  to  the  AAF  mission,  as  also  ten  fighters  listed  as  damaged 
for  reasons  not  directly  attributable  to  "enemy*'  action.* 

Logistical  and  Tactical  Problems 

It  was  not  enough  to  evaluate  Eighth  Air  Force  operations  in  terms 
simply  of  the  results  obtained.  From  the  very  beginning  it  had  been 
apparent  that  its  achievements  would  have  to  be  interpreted  in  relation 
to  the  factors  that  limited  both  the  scope  of  its  operations  and  the 
degree  to  which  those  operations  were  effective.  These  limiting  factors 
loom  especially  large  during  the  early  months  dealt  with  in  these  chap- 
ters, for  it  was  then  that  long-term  plans  were  being  laid  for  the  air 
war  against  Germany— and,  be  it  noted,  always  with  an  eye  to  what  the 
Eighth  Air  Force  was  doing  in  these  essentially  experimental  opera- 
tions. The  problems  themselves  fall  into  two  large  categories:  ( i )  tacti- 
cal problems  and  (2)  those  of  supply,  maintenance,  and  operations. 
Most  of  them  had  made  their  appearance  and  had  received  initial  con- 
sideration in  the  weeks  prior  to  November  1942.  During  the  period 
covered  by  this  chapter  they  developed  rapidly  and  much  thought  and 
effort  were  expended  in  an  attempt  to  solve  them. 

Basic,  of  course,  among  these  factors  was  the  size  of  the  operating 
force  itself,  essentially  a  problem  of  logistics.  The  departure  of  the 
Twelfth  Air  Force  in  early  November  had  left  the  parent  organization 
with  combat  units  amounting  to  seven  heavy  bombardment  groups  less 
one  squadront  (two  of  which  groups  were  scheduled  for  TORCH  at 
some  later  date),  one  single-engine  fighter  group  minus  its  ground 
echelon,  and  one  observation  group  scheduled  eventually  for  North 
Africa.  Of  the  heavy  bomber  units,  four  (the  91st,  303d,  305th,  and 

*  This  category,  for  example,  might  include  planes  suffering  accident  as  a  result  of 
an  exhausted  fuel  supply  after  combat.  German  records  credit  tlie  mission  with  destruc- 
tion on  the  ground  by  bombing  of  five  GAF  bombers  and  one  fighter,  and  with  four 
additional  bombers  damaged.  (Information  supplied  through  courtesy  of  British  Air 
Ministry.) 

t  See  above,  p.  235, 

258 


THE   WAR   AGAINST   THE   SUB  PENS 


44th)  became  operational  only  on  7  November;  two  (the  306th  and 
93  d)  had  at  that  date  been  on  an  operational  status  for  only  one  month. 
The  92d  was  used,  from  November  1942  until  May  1943,  for  training 
purposes  only.  On  5  December  the  93  d  Group  was  ordered  to  move  its 
air  echelon,  minus  one  squadron,  to  North  Africa  for  a  temporary  tour 
of  duty  which  lasted  until  the  end  of  February  1943.  Meanwhile,  one 
squadron  of  the  93d  Group  had  been  on  antisubmarine  duty  with  RAF 
Coastal  Command  from  25  October  to  25  November,  and  another  from 
the  same  outfit  had  been  detailed  as  an  experimental  unit  to  work  on  the 
blind-bombing  project.  During  November,  December,  and  January, 
therefore.  General  Eaker  could  count  on  a  combat  force  of  at  most  six 
heavy  bombardment  groups.^*^  The  Twelfth  Air  Force  had  also  left  the 
Eighth  so  low  in  air  force  service  elements  that  General  Spaatz  in 
November  expressed  doubts  whether  sustained  operations  could  be 
maintained  by  the  remaining  combat  units.®^ 

Moreover,  the  prior  demands  of  TORCH  made  it  impossible  to  keep 
up  to  full  strength  those  units  that  were  regularly  available.  The  prob- 
lem of  replacements  received  a  great  deal  of  attention  during  the  fall 
and  winter  of  1942  both  in  Washington  and  in  Headquarters,  Eighth 
Air  Force.  Early  in  November,  General  Spaatz  urged  that  the  rate  of 
replacement  for  units  in  the  United  Kingdom  be  stepped  up  to  the  level 
proposed  by  the  War  Department  in  July  1942.  The  plan  then  pre- 
sented had  provided  for  20  per  cent  replacement  in  heavy  bombers  per 
month,  additional  aircraft  for  reserve  and  for  the  augmentation  of 
units  through  December  1942  at  the  rate  of  two  per  month  per  group, 
and  combat  crews  for  75  per  cent  of  the  aircraft  thus  provided.^®  On  2 
December  1942  he  cabled  from  Algiers  urging  that  replacements  for 
the  African  theater  be  expedited  in  order  that  no  further  drain  would 
be  necessary  on  the  already  strained  units  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force. 
Further  withdrawals,  he  warned,  would  seriously  affect  operations 
from  the  United  Kingdom  which  were  of  vital  importance  not  only  in 
themselves  but  because  they  prevented  the  enemy  from  diverting  air 
strength  to  the  Mediterranean.*^^ 

AAF  Headquarters,  while  sympathizing  fully  with  the  plight  of  the 
Eighth,  was  apparently  unwilling  to  jeopardize  more  critical  projects 
in  order  to  buUd  up  the  force  in  the  United  Kingdom,  especially  in 
view  of  the  fact  that  shipping  space  was  no  less  at  a  premium  than  were 
men  and  materiel. '^^  Moreover,  the  estimate  of  Eighth  Air  Force  re- 
quirements in  Washington  seems  not  to  have  coincided  exactly  with 

259 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


that  made  by  Spaatz  and  Eaker,  for  records  in  AAF  Headquarters  did 
not  indicate  so  serious  a  situation  as  that  reported  from  the  theater.''^ 
Be  that  as  it  may,  by  the  end  of  January  1943  the  Eighth  Air  Force  was 
not  receiving  replacement  planes  and  crews  as  fast  as  it  was  expend- 
ing them."^^ 

The  result  was  that  under  existing  operational  conditions  the  force 
employed  in  the  day  bombing  program  was  not  large  enough  to  accom- 
plish any  major  item  of  the  task  it  had  undertaken,  a  fact  which  had 
become  apparent  during  the  campaign  against  the  submarine  bases. 
The  size  of  the  operating  force  also  Hmited  the  choice  of  targets,  for  it 
was  felt  that  only  a  force  large  enough  to  protect  itself  readily  should 
be  dispatched  over  the  Reich.  Yet,  on  the  other  hand,  the  necessity  of 
restricting  activity  to  a  single,  relatively  narrow  area  in  occupied 
France  made  it  impossible  to  disperse  the  enemy  fighter  defenses  and  so 
tended  to  increase  combat  losses.  In  any  event,  it  was  obvious  that  a 
lower  rate  of  loss  might  be  expected  when  a  force  could  be  employed 
which  was  large  enough  to  saturate  any  given  system  of  defense."^* 

Regardless  of  the  number  of  aircraft  and  crews  on  hand,  the  number 
that  could  be  sent  out  on  any  particular  mission  depended  on  the  ability 
of  maintenance  crews  and  depots  to  keep  the  aircraft  in  operational 
order,  to  repair  battle  damage,  and  to  make  such  modifications  as  com- 
bat experience  demonstrated  to  be  necessary.  That  ability,  in  turn,  de- 
pended on  an  adequate  supply  of  parts  and  a  force  of  trained  personnel 
large  enough  and  in  a  position  to  devote  enough  time  to  this  work  to 
keep  up  with  the  requirements  of  the  operational  units.  In  the  fall  and 
winter  of  1942  neither  of  these  conditions  existed,  and  so  it  was  not 
possible  to  realize  fully  the  potential  strength  of  the  bomber  force 
available.  On  the  1 5  missions  studied  in  this  chapter  the  VIII  Bomber 
Command  was  able  to  dispatch  an  average  force  of  70  bombers  with  a 
maximum  of  10 1,  yet  these  figures  represented  a  discouragingly  low 
percentage  of  the  total  aircraft  on  hand  in  the  theater.  Through  No- 
vember, for  example,  only  51  per  cent  of  this  total  was  in  combat 
condition.''*^ 

The  Twelfth  Air  Force  had  left  the  Eighth  depleted  in  service  units, 
and  those  left  in  the  United  Kingdom  were  still  required  to  give  high 
priority  to  equipment  destined  for  North  Africa.''^  For  similar  reasons, 
the  Eighth  continued  also  to  suffer  from  an  insufficient  flow  of  parts 
and  tools."  And  there  appeared  little  likeHhood  that  the  situation  would 
improve  for  some  time  to  come,  for,  when  shipping  became  available 

260 


THE   WAR   AGAINST   THE    SUB  PENS 


to  carry  the  required  personnel  and  equipment,  it  would  probably  have 
to  be  used  for  transporting  combat  units.  Although  General  Spaatz 
warned  that  "a  marked  reduction  in  the  rate  and  efficiency  of  air  opera- 
tions must  be  expected  until  the  required  service  elements  have  caught 
up  with  the  combat  elements,"  he  advocated  allocating  available  ship- 
ping to  combat  replacements  as  a  matter  of  first  priority,  since  the  latter 
required  more  time  to  become  acclimatized  and  might,  if  necessary,  be 
supported  on  an  emergency  basis  until  normal  service  units  arrived.'^^ 
At  the  same  time,  the  Eighth  Air  Force  was  facing  a  rising  rate  of 
battle  damage  which  placed  an  increasing  load  on  the  already  inade- 
quate repair  facilities,  with  the  inevitable  result  that  a  large  proportion 
of  heavy  bomber  strength  remained  inoperationaL  In  September,  13.3 
per  cent  of  the  attacking  planes  suffered  reparable  damage;  in  October 
37.7  per  cent.  By  December  the  percentage  in  this  category  had  risen 
to  42.1,  with  January  promising  an  even  higher  proportion  of  damaged 
planes."^®  Still  further  to  complicate  matters,  it  had  been  found  nec- 
essary to  modify  the  heavy  bombers  to  meet  unforeseen  tactical  and 
operational  conditions  and,  moreover,  to  do  the  work  to  a  large  extent 
in  the  theater.*  Until  a  standard  model  could  be  turned  out  in  the 
United  States,  fully  equipped  for  combat  in  the  European  theater— 
and  even  then  special  projects  would  require  special  modifications- 
changes  had  to  be  made  at  almost  all  echelons  by  the  cut-and-fit 
method,  which  again  increased  the  load  on  available  maintenance 
facilities.^^ 

Maintenance  difficulties  were  reflected  in  the  relatively  high  rate  of 
abortive  sorties  resulting  from  mechanical  failure.  Since  October  that 
rate  had  increased  considerably,  amounting  in  November  to  23  per  cent 
of  all  abortives.  Crews  were  instructed  to  return  without  entering 
enemy  territory  if  turrets  became  inoperative,  if  guns  jammed,  or  any 
other  important  items  of  equipment  failed.*^  It  is  possible,  of  course,  that 
the  anxiety  of  group  commanders  to  get  as  many  of  their  planes  in  the 
air  as  possible  had  the  effect  of  starting  some  that,  under  less  hectic 
operating  conditions,  might  have  been  left  on  the  ground  for  more 
thorough  overhaul.  In  any  case  this  was  a  serious  matter,  for  the  total 
abortive  rate  was  itself  high.  Of  the  1,053  bombers  dispatched  from 
2 1  October  1942  to  1 3  January  1943, 42 1  had  failed  to  attack.^^  In  Jan- 
uary, General  Eaker  admitted  that,  next  to  the  large  number  of  aircraft 

•  See  below,  chap.  18. 

261 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


out  of  commission,  the  large  number  of  abortive  sorties  had  been  his 
chief  worry  during  the  preceding  weeks. ®^ 

Even  more  important  than  mechanical  failure  as  a  cause  of  abortives 
was  the  weather.  Too  often  the  bombers  had  to  take  off  in  mud  and 
water  or  fly  in  rain  which  caused  their  guns  to  freeze  or  their  windows 
and  sights  to  become  blurred  at  high  altitude.  And  there  was  always  a 
very  good  chance  that,  regardless  of  expert  predictions,  the  bombard- 
iers would  find  their  targets  partially  or  totally  obscured  by  clouds.  As 
high  as  50  per  cent  of  the  abortive  sorties  could  be  traced  directly  or 
indirectly  to  the  weather.  Things  were  improving  slightly  by  January: 
crews  were,  for  example,  learning  how,  when  runways  were  covered 
with  water,  to  prevent  icing  of  guns  and  turrets  by  the  use  of  oil;  and 
in  some  instances  malfunction  of  bomb-bay  doors  owing  to  the  same 
conditions  was  prevented  by  removing  the  doors  completely.®^  But,  in 
the  final  analysis,  only  fine  weather  could  entirely  eliminate  these 
operational  hazards. 

Weather,  indeed,  continued  to  act  as  the  greatest  of  all  the  factors 
limiting  Eighth  Air  Force  bombing.  Only  once  during  November  and 
December  was  it  reported  that  a  mission  had  actually  been  canceled 
because  of  maintenance  and  repair  difficulties,  and  then  the  trouble 
arose  only  after  three  successive  days  of  operations.  On  the  other  hand, 
weather  conditions  held  available  aircraft  on  the  ground  on  numerous 
occasions.®^ 

High  hopes  continued  to  be  placed  on  blind-bombing  techniques, 
and  much  study  was  being  devoted  to  the  use  made  of  special  naviga- 
tional devices  by  British  Pathfinder  units.  It  was  hoped  specifically 
that  development  in  that  direction,  together  with  the  improved 
weather  which  might  be  expected  during  the  coming  spring  and  sum- 
mer months,  would  permit  an  average  of  six  missions  per  month  per 
operational  bomber  instead  of  the  three  missions  averaged  during  the 
fall  of  1 942  .^^  But  the  initial  experiments  in  using  single  B-24's  equipped 
with  Gee  for  "moling"*  or  "intruder"  missions  gave  little  ground  for 
optimism.  On  2  January  1943,  four  B-24's  of  the  special  experimental 
squadron  made  the  first  of  these  blind  operations  over  manufacturing 
cities  north  of  the  Ruhr  with  the  object  of  alerting  air-raid  crews  and 
otherwise  harassing  the  enemy.  It  had  been  specified  that,  in  view  of  the 

*  Missions  flown  by  single  radar-equipped  bombers  sent  out  in  overcast  weather  for 
the  purpose  of  alerting  the  enemy's  antiaircraft  defenses  and  generally  contributing  to 
a  feeling  of  insecurity  on  his  part. 


262 


THE   WAR   AGAINST   THE    SUB  PENS 


valuaule  equipment  carried  and  the  small  intrinsic  value  of  any  bomb- 
ing done,  the  airplanes  should  return  to  base  if  cloud  cover  proved  in- 
sufficient to  give  protection.  Perversely,  the  w^eather  cleared  and  all 
four  returned  without  bombing.  Tvi^ice  more  in  January  B-24's  went 
out  on  expeditions  of  this  sort,  only  to  be  foiled  again  by  fine  weather. 
Short  of  resorting  to  night  bombing  (the  RAF  had  conducted  eighteen 
missions  during  January)  the  Eighth  Air  Force  had  little  choice  but  to 
wait  for  favorable  weather  and  a  wider  selection  of  targets.®*^ 

The  Eighth  Air  Force  also  faced  certain  major  tactical  problems. 
Success  depended  primarily  on  the  ability  of  the  day  bombers  to  hit 
and  destroy  their  objective  and  on  their  ability  to  defend  themselves 
against  flak  and  fighter  attack.  Questions  on  both  these  accounts  had 
dogged  Eighth  Air  Force  operations  from  the  beginning.  During  the 
fall  and  winter  of  1942  they  became  rapidly  more  pressing.  In  order  to 
hit  such  relatively  small,  isolated,  and  invulnerable  targets  as  submarine 
base  installations,  better  offensive  tactics— particularly  improved  accu- 
racy—would have  to  be  developed.  At  the  same  time,  the  vigorous 
growth  of  German  countermeasures  called  attention  even  more  ur- 
gently to  the  problems  of  defense.  Prior  to  2 1  October  neither  flak  nor 
fighters  had  seriously  threatened  the  American  bombers.  Clearly,  the 
Germans  had  been  caught  unprepared  for  a  weapon  such  as  the  day 
bomber,  which  not  only  could  do  real  damage  from  extreme  altitudes 
but  could  also  shoot  it  out  with  the  best  fighters  in  the  Luftwaffe. 
However,  as  many  observers,  including  General  Spaatz,  had  foreseen, 
they  lost  no  time  in  adjusting  defensive  tactics  to  cope  with  this  unprec- 
edented attack.  If  they  adjusted  neither  so  rapidly  nor  so  radically  as 
some  had  feared,  they  nevertheless  gave  the  Eighth  Air  Force  grounds 
for  serious  concern  and  taxed  the  ingenuity  of  its  tactical  experts. 

Except  for  the  few  seconds  of  the  bombing  run,  when  the  purpose 
of  the  heavy  bomber  is  realized,  all  phases  of  a  bombing  mission  are 
dominated  by  considerations  of  defense.  But  considerations  of  defense 
had  to  be  carefully  balanced  against  those  of  offense,  for  they  were  not 
always  reconcilable;  and  they  had  also  to  be  weighed  in  relation  to  each 
other,  for  what  would  offer  protection  against  flak  might  increase  vul- 
nerability to  fighters.  For  example,  high-altitude  bombing  reduced 
risk  from  flak,  but  it  also  reduced  bombing  accuracy.  Bombings  by  a 
single  aircraft  might,  under  ideal  conditions,  be  best  for  both  accuracy 
and  protection  from  flak  but  would  not  provide  sufficient  defense 
against  fighter  attacks.  Large  bombing  units  flying  in  formation  would 

263 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD   WAR  II 


give  adequate  protection  against  fighter  attacks  but  would  increase 
flak  hazards  and  at  the  same  time  reduce  accuracy  by  enlarging  the 
resulting  bomb  pattern.  As  experience  was  gained,  constant  adjustment 
was  made  in  the  multilateral  compromise  necessitated  by  this  problem 
of  integrating  defensive  and  offensive  tactics.®®  By  early  1943  many 
of  the  basic  lessons  had  been  learned,  much  of  the  pioneer  work  having 
been  done  by  the  ist  Bombardment  Wing  under  the  successive  com- 
mand of  Generals  Longfellow,  Kuter,  and  HanselL®^ 

German  flak  defenses  at  first  had  proved  ineffective  in  opposition  to 
aircraft  flying  at  altitudes  above  20,000  feet,  and  German  fighter  pilots 
had  been  unwilling  to  come  very  close,  preferring  to  stand  off  just 
outside  the  range  of  the  bombers'  guns  and  wait  for  a  favorable  oppor- 
tunity to  duck  quickly  in  and  out  of  the  formation.  During  October, 
enemy  fighter  tactics  reflected  a  feverish  determination  to  find  a  way 
to  stop  the  day  bombers.  Though  many  types  of  attack  were  tried,  tail 
attacks  predominated.  This  had  been  the  accepted  angle  of  attack 
against  bombers,  however,  and  it  was  the  type  against  which  the 
USAAF  had  undertaken  to  protect  its  heavy  bombers  by  the  addition 
of  especially  heavy  armament  and  armor  plate.^**  The  climax  in  this 
phase  of  the  German  attack  came  on  21  October  when  the  FW-190's 
(bearing  the  yellow  nose  paint  characteristic  of  Goering's  elite  fighter 
wing)  made  a  series  of  desperate  attacks  from  the  rear  in  an  apparent 
effort  to  find  a  blind  spot  safe  from  both  dorsal  and  ball  turrets.  They 
came  in,  sometimes  in  formations  of  three,  at  flight  level,  opening  fire  at 
800  yards.  Three  bombers  were  lost  as  a  result  of  this  action,  and  six 
others  damaged.^^ 

Beginning  with  the  St.  Nazaire  mission  of  23  November,  the  Ger- 
mans changed  their  tactics  abruptly.  Oberleutnant  Egon  Mayer,  who 
commanded  the  attacking  fighters  that  day,  is  credited  with  developing 
the  head-on  attack.  Having  studied  the  largely  unsuccessful  efforts 
made  so  far  to  stop  the  heavy  bombers,  he  ordered  a  frontal  attack, 
leading  one  element  personally.  The  tactic  worked  well,  for  it  caught 
the  American  bombers  in  their  most  vulnerable  spot.®^  At  that  time 
some  B-17's  had  one  .30-cal.  hand-held  gun,  firing  through  one  of  four 
eyelets  just  off  center,  and  some  mounted  two  .50-cal.  side  nose  guns.  In 
either  case,  a  blind  spot  was  left  in  front  which  neither  the  upper  turret 
nor  the  ball  turret  could  reach.  The  B-24's  were  equipped  with  .50-cal. 
side  nose  guns,  and  a  single  .50-caL  center  nose  gun  mounted  to  fire 
below  horizontal  only.  This  armament  also  left  a  blind  spot  which  the 

264 


THE  WAR    AGAINST   THE   SUB  PENS 


upper  turret  could  not  cover.®^  The  only  disadvantage  to  the  head-on 
attack  from  the  enemy  point  of  view  was  that  it  made  necessary  a 
high  degree  of  skill  and  training  on  the  part  of  the  fighter  pilots  in  order 
to  make  effective  use  of  the  short  time  allowed  by  the  very  rapid  rate 
of  closure,  even  when  the  approach  was  executed  at  low  speed;  and  it 
was  for  that  reason  that  it  was  not  universally  adopted  and,  indeed,  was 
officially  frowned  upon  in  August  1943  when  the  number  of  inexpe- 
rienced pilots  had  increased  so  rapidly  that  such  attacks  could  only 
prove  disastrous.  They  continued  to  be  made,  however,  throughout  the 
air  war  in  Europe.** 

Through  January  1943  nose  attacks  continued  to  predominate  and 
accounted  for  most  of  the  losses  suffered  by  the  VIII  Bomber  Com- 
mand as  a  result  of  encounters  with  enemy  fighters."^  Losses  from 
enemy  fighter  fire,  in  turn,  constituted  by  far  the  larger  proportion  of 
total  losses,  which  had  risen  from  an  average  of  3.7  per  cent  of  the 
attacking  force  in  November  to  8.8  and  8.7  per  cent  in  December  and 
January  respectively.*®  Bomber  crews  had  to  face  the  enemy's  frontal 
attacks  very  frequently  just  over  the  target,  when  the  confusion  inevit- 
ably resulting  would  be  most  likely  to  spoil  the  bombardier's  aim.  In 
fact,  it  was  believed  that  to  break  up  the  bombing  run  had  now  become 
a  primary  objective  of  the  German  fighters,*^  The  frontal  attacks, 
therefore,  came  during  these  months  to  be  the  chief  defensive  problem 
of  the  Eighth  Air, Force. 

It  was  immediately  clear  that  the  only  effective  countermeasures 
would  be  the  addition  of  increased  forward  firepower  in  the  bombers 
and  an  improved  defensive  formation  which  would  give  all  planes  the 
benefit  of  mutual  protection.  Of  these  remedies,  the  addition  of  nose 
guns  was  the  more  critical  item,  because  it  would  involve  a  great  deal  of 
time-consuming  modification  both  in  the  United  Kingdom  and  in  the 
United  States.  Meanwhile  makeshift  tactics  were  devised.  One  method 
of  countering  the  front-quarter,  level  attack— the  method  reported  in 
December  as  the  one  officially  approved— consisted  of  a  diving  turn 
into  the  attack,  which  uncovered  the  top  turret  and,  incidentally, 
tended  to  spoil  the  enemy  pilot's  aim.  It  was  hoped  that  in  this  way  any 
such  attack  would  encounter  not  only  the  front,  side-firing  guns  but 
the  top  turrets  of  at  least  some  bombers  in  the  formation.*® 

Modification  for  nose  guns  began  promptly.  Pending  the  installation 
of  a  standard  power-driven  turret  in  the  B-17,  flexible,  hand-held 
.50-caL  nose  guns  were  provided  in  most  of  the  Fortresses  destined  for 

265 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


the  European  theater;  and  the  standard  B-24  center  nose  gun  was  modi- 
fied in  such  a  way  that  it  could  fire  above  the  horizontals^  In  the 
theater,  similar  modifications  were  undertaken  on  as  many  aircraft  as 
could  be  accommodated  in  the  depots.  The  need  for  such  modifications 
was  so  great  that  improvised  field  installations  were  authorized  as  long 
as  they  conformed  to  basic  requirements.  By  mid-January,  most  heavy 
bombers  in  the  United  Kingdom  were  equipped  with  effective  forward 
fire,  if  only  from  single,  improvised,  .30-cal  and  .50-cal.  hand-held 
guns.^^^  Complete  satisfaction  could  only  result  from  the  installation  of 
a  turret  in  the  nose,  but  it  was  not  until  August  and  September  of  1943 
that  the  improved  B-17's  and  B-24's  arrived  in  the  theater  complete 
with  this  power-driven  equipment.^**^ 

Although  it  was  a  standard  defense  against  all  fighter  attack,  the 
large  formation  of  bombers  so  stacked  as  to  provide  mutual  fire  support 
proved  especially  helpful  in  countering  the  frontal  attacks.  Indeed,  it 
was  during  the  fall  and  winter  of  1942,  and  primarily  in  answer  to  this 
particular  problem,  that  the  ist  Bombardment  Wing  evolved  a  system 
of  formations  which  became  the  prototype  for  operations  in  the 
theater.  When  General  Kuter  took  over  the  wing  on  6  December  1 942, 
he  found  the  four  groups  each  operating  according  to  its  own  tactical 
doctrine.  No  wing  organization  existed  for  tactical  purposes,  and  con- 
sequently the  groups  collaborated  only  in  the  sense  that  they  all 
attacked  the  same  target  roughly  at  the  same  time.  No  effort  was  made 
to  secure  additional  fire  support  by  coordinating  group  tactics.  Squad- 
rons and  groups  had  developed  into  cohesive  teams,  but  the  wing  as  a 
whole  had  not  become  a  combat  unit.  Acting  on  the  assumption  that 
the  larger  the  formation,  consistent  with  requirements  of  maneuver- 
ability, accuracy,  and  control  at  high  altitudes,  the  more  mutual  fire 
support  would  be  obtained.  General  Kuter  set  about  to  weld  the  squad- 
rons and  groups  into  the  largest  practicable  combat  units.^**^ 

At  first  the  groups  had  bombed  in  elements  of  three  aircraft,  but 
fighter  attacks  demonstrated  that  bombing  by  elements,  however  satis- 
factory from  the  point  of  view  of  accuracy,  did  not  provide  sufficient 
defensive  power.  Bombing  by  squadrons  composed  of  two  elements  of 
three  aircraft  each  was  then  tried.  The  intensity  of  enemy  attacks  soon 
made  it  necessary  to  resort  to  bombing  by  groups  of  three  squadrons. 
Thus  a  formation  composed  of  eighteen  to  twenty-one  bombers, 
known  as  a  combat  box,  became  the  standard  minimum  combat  unit, 
and  it  was  stacked  in  such  a  way  as  to  uncover  as  many  of  the  top  and 

266 


THE   WAR   AGAINST   THE    SUB  PENS 


bottom  turrets  as  possible  in  order  to  bring  the  maximum  fire  to  bear 
on  the  critical  forward  hemisphere.  It  was  considered  the  smallest  unit 
feasible  for  defensive  purposes  and  the  largest  that  could  be  handled 
readily  on  the  bombing  run.^**^ 

But  it  appeared,  especially  on  the  trip  toward  the  target  and  again  on 
withdrawal,  that  mutual  fire  support  could  be  greatly  increased  by 
combining  two  or  more  combat  boxes  into  a  single  defensive  formation. 
It  was  not,  however,  considered  practicable  to  fly  the  entire  bombard- 
ment wing  in  one  formation.  Anything  larger  than  a  formation  of  two 
or  three  combat  boxes  would  have  required  deployment  in  such  depth 
that  the  differences  in  wind  velocity  arid  aircraft  performance  at  dif- 
ferent altitudes  would  have  aggravated  the  tendency  of  any  formation 
to  telescope  and  lose  effective  position.  Moreover,  two  groups  were 
about  all  that  could  be  readily  briefed  and  controlled  by  a  single  com- 
bat commander.  Accordingly,  the  ist  Bombardment  Wing  formed  two 
combat  wings  of  two  groups  each.  In  each  of  these  combat  wings  the 
senior  group  commander  assumed  command  and  was  given  full  author- 
ity in  planning  and  executing  the  mission.  This  organization  existed  for 
tactical  purposes  only  and  in  no  way  affected  the  administrative  organi- 
zation of  the  bombardment  wing.^^* 

The  combat  wing,  consisting  of  two  or  three  combat  boxes,  thus  be- 
came the  maximum  defensive  formation.  It  was  generally  deployed  in 
echelon  up,  in  a  vertical  wedge  similar  in  principle  to  that  of  the  com- 
bat box,  although  in  the  period  under  review  many  variations  occurred. 
In  early  1943  it  was  apparently  also  planned  to  use  the  combat  wing 
as  a  unit  in  formation  bombing  whenever  the  fighter  opposition  seemed 
likely  to  be  strong  enough  immediately  over  the  target  to  warrant  its 
use;  this,  despite  the  fact  that  it  would  be  a  clumsy  formation  to  maneu- 
ver around  the  initial  point  onto  the  bombing  run  and  that  the  resulting 
bomb  pattern  would  tend  to  be  too  large  for  the  desired  accuracy.^*''' 

Fighter  cover,  and  lots  of  it,  had  originally  been  held  a  prerequisite 
to  day  bombing,  and  the  early  missions  had  been  flown  under  a  huge 
umbrella  of  friendly  fighters.  But  after  October  most  priority  targets 
lay  beyond  the  range  of  the  Spitfires,  which  for  the  time  being  were  the 
only  fighters  available  for  such  operations.  They  usually  accompanied 
the  bombers  part  way  in  toward  the  target  area  and  provided  with- 
drawal support  on  the  way  out.  During  the  missions,  moreover,  large 
fighter  forces,  still  for  the  most  part  RAF,  conducted  diversionary 
sweeps  to  confuse  the  enemy  RDF;  but  the  bombers  were  generally 

267 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

left  to  the  as  yet  uncertain  protection  of  their  own  gunners  during  the 
critical  time  over  the  objective.^^^ 

As  losses  mounted  during  these  partially  or  entirely  unescorted  mis* 
sions,  and  especially  as  the  time  drew  near  when  operations  would  have 
to  be  conducted  over  the  Reich  itself  with  its  presumably  denser  fighter 
defenses,  it  began  to  look  as  if  the  long-range  fighter  would  after  all  be 
a  necessary  part  of  a  successful  day  bombing  offensive.  By  1 5  January 
the  78th  Fighter  Group  was  due  to  have  its  quota  of  P-38's,  and  Gen- 
eral Eaker  hoped  that  with  these  he  could  reduce  bomber  losses  over 
the  submarine  bases  by  one-half.  Unfortunately  this  group  soon  fol- 
lowed its  predecessors  to  Africa,  and  the  need  for  long-range  fighters 
remained.^**^ 

As  an  alternative  to  the  long-range  fighter,  the  escort-bomber,  known 
provisionally  as  the  XB-40  or  YB-40,  was  in  the  process  of  being  de- 
veloped. A  B-17  especially  equipped  to  combat  enemy  fighters,  it 
carried  extra  armament,  armor,  and  ammunition  in  place  of  the  usual 
bomb  load.  Conceived  as  a  possibility  for  the  European  theater  in  1941 
and  actually  planned  in  the  summer  of  1942,  it  was  scheduled  to  appear 
in  the  European  theater  by  March  1943.*  Although  contemplated 
without  enthusiasm  by  General  Eaker,  it  was  favored  by  many  com- 
manders who  hoped  that,  by  mixing  it  with  the  bombers  in  ratio  of 
I  YB-40  to  2  or  3  bombers,  they  might  free  the  latter  from  the  limita- 
tions of  fighter  range  and  send  them  over  Germany  as  far  as  their  fuel 
would  take  them.^^® 

The  Eighth  Air  Force  had  less  reason  to  fear  antiaircraft  fire  than 
fighter  attacks  during  the  period  under  review.  Barely  one-fourth  of 
the  bombers  lost  in  action  could  be  credited  to  flak  alone,  and  only  a 
few  more  bombers  suffered  flak  damage  than  were  hit  by  enemy  air- 
craft. But,  whereas  the  percentage  of  damaged  aircraft  that  were  hit  by 
fighter  action  showed  little  tendency  to  increase,  the  percentage  of 
damaged  bombers  that  had  been  hit  by  flak  appeared  definitely  to  be 
rising.  And  on  two  occasions,  at  St.  Nazaire  on  9  November  and  on 
3  January,  substantial  losses  had  been  sustained  as  a  result  of  antiaircraft 
fire.i«*> 

The  increase  in  flak  damage  reflected  a  marked  improvement  in 
German  antiaircraft  technique.  Flak  batteries  were  now  concentrated 
in  such  a  way  as  to  fit  the  pattern  of  USAAF  targets,  with  special  atten- 

•  See  Vol.  1, 604. 


268 


THE   WAR   AGAINST   THE   SUB  PENS 

tion  given  to  the  submarine  bases  on  the  Bay  of  Biscay.  Originally  the 
only  type  of  fire  encountered  was  that  termed  a  ''continuous  follow- 
ing," which  required  the  gunners  to  make  a  continuous  prediction  of 
the  position  of  the  target  aircraft.  Often  this  type  of  fire  was  thrown 
up  behind  the  formation  and  gradually  worked  forward.  It  was  essen- 
tially a  trial-and-error  method  in  which  altitude  could  be  estimated 
more  easily  than  deflection,  since  the  gunner  had  to  predict  some 
twenty  seconds  in  advance  the  point  at  which  the  target  aircraft  would 
be  and  since  his  88-mm.  shells  had  a  lethal  radius  of  only  thirty  feet. 
Although  the  gunners  seem  to  have  improved  the  accuracy  of  their 
fire,  this  method  proved  relatively  ineffective  at  high  altitudes,  pro- 
vided that  positive— though  naturally  not  regular— evasive  action  were 
taken  by  the  bombers.^^^ 

A  m.uch  more  effective  technique,  if  the  target  could  be  determined 
in  advance,  was  that  called  a  "predicted  barrage,"  in  which  flak  was 
thrown  up  throughout  a  limited  area  through  which  it  had  been  calcu- 
lated the  attacking  aircraft  would  have  to  fly.  It  was  a  method  uniquely 
adapted  for  use  over  the  submarine  bases,  which  were  well-known  ob- 
jectives not  easily  confused  with  neighboring  targets.  In  fact,  it  was  at 
St.  Nazaire,  on  3  January  1943,  that  a  predicted  barrage  was  first  en- 
countered—with serious  results  to  the  attacking  bombers.  The  tech- 
nique was  not,  however,  one  likely  to  succeed  in  such  areas  as  the  Ruhr, 
where  targets  of  high  priority  abounded.^^^ 

The  tactics  best  suited  for  penetrating  heavy  flak  defenses  were 
simple  enough,  but  they  almost  all  necessitated  some  degree  of  compro- 
mise with  the  requirements  for  accuracy  or  for  defense  against  enemy 
fighters.  Positive  evasive  action  might  be  taken  for  as  long  as  possible, 
the  length  of  the  level  bombing  run  being  reduced  to  the  shortest  com- 
mensurate with  careful  aiming.  The  bombers  might  converge  on  the 
target  nearly  simultaneously  on  at  least  two  axes;  they  might  maintain 
a  substantial  differential  in  altitude  between  units;  and  they  might  take 
maximum  evasive  action  immediately  after  release  of  the  bombs.  But 
care  had  to  be  taken  not  to  disperse  them  to  such  an  extent  that  elements 
would  fall  prey  to  fighter  attack.  Finally,  to  escape  flak  most  effec- 
tively, the  bombers  had  to  fly  at  the  highest  altitude  compatible  with 
accurate  bombing.^^^  Here,  in  a  sense,  was  the  most  difficult  compro- 
mise to  make.  It  might  fairly  be  said  that,  in  these  early  months  at  any 
rate,  flak  handicapped  effective  bombing  operations  less  by  destroying 
or  damaging  bombers  than  by  forcing  the  attacking  planes  to  bomb 

269 


THE  ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD  WAR  II 

at  altitudes  too  high  for  their  more  or  less  inexperienced  crews  to 
achieve  consistent  accuracy. 

The  question  of  bombing  accuracy  overshadowed  all  others  pertain- 
ing to  the  offensive  aspect  of  bombardment.  Unfortunately  it  is  not 
possible  to  say  anything  very  precise  about  the  degree  of  accuracy 
achieved  in  those  days,  for  the  information  available  is  too  incomplete, 
too  inconsistently  reported,  and  filled  with  too  many  variables  to  per- 
mit any  worth-while  conclusions.  Despite  the  fact  that  A AF  Headquar- 
ters exhibited  an  anxious  interest  in  the  subject,  it  was  only  on  data 
accumulated  after  i  January  1943  that  any  systematic  analysis  became 
feasible."^  This  much,  however,  is  incontestable:  results  in  the  fall  and 
winter  of  1942,  though  initially  encouraging,  especially  for  inexperi- 
enced crews,  were  disappointing  to  all  those  who,  trained  in  the 
"pickle-barrel"  school  of  bombing,  knew  how  accurate  the  American 
bombers  could  be."^  An  average  of  only  about  50  per  cent  of  the 
bombs  dropped  could  be  identified  by  photographic  reconnaissance. 
Although  many  "duds"  were  reported  by  ground  sources,  it  may  be 
assumed  that  a  large  proportion  of  the  unidentified  bomb  falls  repre- 
sented "gross"  errors."^ 

It  was  this  prevalence  of  so-called  gross  errors  that  concerned  bomb- 
ing analysts  most  acutely.  Under  practice  conditions,  accuracy  might 
conceivably  be  improved  indefinitely  by  training  the  bombardiers  to 
set  their  sights  more  precisely  and  the  pilots  to  hold  a  steadier  course 
during  the  run  on  the  target.  There  were  thus  in  practice  exercises  few 
gross  errors  to  contend  with  and  few  errors  stemming  from  intrinsic 
faults  in  the  equipment.  Most  errors  were  errors  of  adjustment  alone. 
Things  were  very  different  in  combat,  where  the  confusion  and  excite- 
ment increased  the  incidence  of  gross  errors  to  the  point  where  they  be- 
came the  dominant  factor  governing  bomb  dispersion.  Clearly,  then,  if 
the  cause  of  these  sizable  errors  was  not  discovered  and  removed,  the 
Norden  bombsight  with  its  delicate  adjustment  would  be  valueless.  It 
was,  in  fact,  considered  possible  that  in  such  an  event  an  inferior  sight 
requiring  less  careful  adjustment  might  have  to  be  adopted,  a  step  which 
would  seriously  have  compromised  the  ideal  of  precision  which  under- 
lay the  American  bombardment  theory.^^^ 

Undoubtedly  many  gross  errors  resulted  from  mechanical  failure, 
the  bombs  either  hanging  up  or  salvoing  prematurely.  At  high  altitude 
the  extreme  cold,  in  addition  to  the  strain  on  the  airplane  caused  by  the 
bomb  load,  sometimes  impaired  the  functioning  of  the  release  mecha- 


270 


THE   WAR   AGAINST   THE    SUB  PENS 

nism.  Much  more  important  was  the  frequent  failure  of  pilots,  bombard- 
iers, and  navigators  to  identify  the  target.  Although  an  extreme  case,  it  is 
instructive  to  notice  that  on  the  operation  of  i8  November  1942  one 
formation  was  able  to  bomb  St.  Nazaire  under  the  impression  that  it 
was  bombing  La  Pallice,  100  miles  away.  A  more  typical  case  occurred 
in  the  Lille  raid  of  8  November  when  some  twenty  to  twenty-five 
bombs  struck  near  a  factory  three  miles  short  of  the  intended  target, 
which  was  also  a  factory  but  situated  in  quite  different  surroundings,^^'^ 
The  development  of  perspective  maps,  then  well  under  way,  helped 
reduce  the  likehhood  of  mistakes  of  this  sort  by  providing  the  bom- 
bardier with  a  picture  of  the  target  as  he  was  likely  to  see  it  rather  than 
as  it  appeared  on  the  older  type  of  vertically  projected  target  map.^^® 
Then,  too,  it  was  often  difficult  to  follow  a  set  course  in  the  face  of 
unexpectedly  strong  cross  winds.  And  many  errors  arose  from  failure 
to  set  instruments  properly,  either  because  of  combat  excitement  or 
because  the  severe  cold  and  the  encumbrances  of  oxygen  apparatus, 
heavy  clothing,  and  parachutes  prevented  dexterous  manipulation.^^® 

Most  unsettling  of  all  factors  making  for  inaccuracy  was  the  neces- 
sity of  conducting  a  steady  bombing  run  in  the  face  of  enemy  antiair- 
craft or  fighter  action.  To  one  observer,  bombing  accuracy  appeared 
to  be  inversely  proportional  to  the  resistance  encountered  at  the  target. 
In  order  to  guard  against  flak,  evasive  action  was  normally  taken  for  as 
long  as  possible  on  the  approach  to  the  target,  leaving  a  maximum  of 
fifty  seconds  for  the  level  bombing  run.  During  that  time  delicate  ad- 
justments had  to  be  made  with  extreme  dexterity  and  speed,  and  often 
under  enemy  attack.^^®  An  additional  difficulty  arose  from  the  fact  that, 
in  order  to  maintain  an  effective  defense  against  fighters,  the  formation 
was  likely  to  be  too  large  to  produce  a  satisfactory  bombing  pattern.^^^ 

Various  solutions  to  these  bombing  problems  were  suggested.  One 
obvious  way  to  increase  accuracy,  though  not  of  course  to  reduce  the 
number  of  gross  errors,  was  to  bomb  at  lower  altitudes.  But  the  experi- 
ment of  9  November  at  St.  Nazaire  discouraged  further  planning  in 
that  direction,  and  a  lower  probability  of  error  was  exchanged  for 
lower  vulnerability  to  antiaircraft.  Much  naturally  depended  on  a 
constandy  improved  state  of  training  and  experience,  which  alone 
would  remove  many  of  the  causes  of  error. To  insure  a  steady  bomb 
run  and  so  give  the  bombardier  time  to  set  his  sights,  pilots  and  bom- 
bardiers were  urged  to  use  their  automatic  flight-control  equipment 


271 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


(AFCE)  which,  when  it  functioned  properly  as  at  that  time  it  did  not 
always  do,  gave  more  precise  results  than  manual  flying.^^^ 

Some  commanders  believed  that  one  way  to  get  accurate  aiming  in 
formation  bombing  would  be  to  have  the  leader  in  the  formation  set 
his  sights  accurately  for  deflection,  even  at  the  expense  of  accuracy  in 
range,  and  leave  the  remaining  crews  to  set  theirs  for  range  only,  taking 
their  direction  simply  by  holding  their  place  in  the  f  ormation.^^*  In  this 
way  group  bombing  could  be  accomplished  without  the  risks  and  con- 
fusion likely  to  ensue  should  each  plane  in  the  formation  attempt  to 
make  its  own  adjustment  for  deflection.  In  a  further  effort  to  exploit 
the  possibilities  of  group  bombing,  and  incidentally  to  escape  from  the 
irregularities  that  seemed  always  to  crop  up  when  bombardiers  of 
uneven  ability  bombed  individually,  some  groups  resorted  in  January 
1943  to  bombing  entirely  "on  the  leader,"  each  bombardier  taking  his 
signal  from  the  lead  plane.  Initial  results  of  this  method,  though  not  at 
that  time  conclusive,  proved  very  encouraging.^^^  Finally,  one  of  the 
most  urgent  requirements  for  improved  accuracy  was  some  sort  of  im- 
proved firepower  by  means  of  which  the  frontal  attacks,  made  so  con- 
sistently by  the  German  fighters  in  December  and  January,  could  be 
effectively  countered  and  the  morale  of  the  bomber  crews  be  corre- 
spondingly raised.^^® 

The  problem  of  accuracy,  and  indeed  that  of  bombing  in  general, 
thus  became  inextricably  entangled  with  that  of  defense.  The  method 
of  bombing  as  worked  out  by  the  ist  Bombardment  Wing  during  late 
1942  tended  to  be  dictated  more  by  the  nature  of  the  opposition  met 
than  by  the  theoretical  requirements  of  precision  bombardment.  The 
enemy  practice  of  attacking  during  the  bombing  run,  even  in  the  pres- 
ence of  antiaircraft  fire,  made  it  advisable  to  preserve  as  large  a  forma- 
tion as  possible  and  one  so  arranged  as  to  give  all  elements  the  maximum 
of  mutual  protection.  A  large  formation  (and  it  was  tentatively  sug- 
gested that  bombing  might  be  done  in  combat  wing  formation)  in- 
creased vulnerability  to  flak  and,  if  the  bombing  were  done  on  the 
leader,  it  was  likely  to  produce  a  larger  bomb  pattern  than  when  the 
work  was  accomplished  by  smaller  formations.  If,  on  the  other  hand, 
flak  defenses  were  known  to  be  concentrated,  it  was  necessary  to  ac- 
cept higher  vulnerability  to  fighters  by  splitting  the  formation  so  as  to 
reduce  risk  from  flak.^^"^ 

In  this  chapter  and  the  one  immediately  preceding  it,  a  story  has  been 
told  of  things  accomplished  and  problems  encountered  by  the  Eighth 

272 


THE   WAR   AGAINST   THE   SUB  PENS 


Air  Force  prior  to  mid- January  1943.  It  was  on  the  basis  of  these 
achievements  and  in  the  face  of  these  half-solved  problems  that  General 
Arnold  took  his  stand  on  behalf  of  the  daylight  precision  bombing  of 
Germany  at  the  Casablanca  conference  in  January.  The  record  was 
incomplete  and  the  conclusions  it  warranted  were  necessarily  tentative; 
but  it  enabled  him  to  state  the  case  for  the  daylight  bombardment  cam- 
paign strongly  enough  to  insure  for  it  a  place,  and  an  important  one,  in 
the  plans  forged  at  that  time  for  the  defeat  of  the  European  Axis. 


273 


CHAPTER  9 
*********** 


THE  CASABLANCA 
DIRECTIVE 

THE  decision  to  abandon  an  early  invasion  of  Europe  in  favor 
of  TORCH  left  Allied  strategy  in  what  may  now  seem  a  state 
of  surprisingly  unstable  equilibrium.  By  some,  particularly  by 
the  U.S.  Navy,  it  was  apparently  taken  as  a  signal  for  a  radical  reorien- 
tation of  policy,  amounting  even  to  a  shift  from  the  strategic  offensive 
against  Germany  to  the  strategic  offensive  against  Japan.  At  best  the 
balance  between  these  two  concepts,  as  early  agreed  upon,  had  been  a 
delicate  one.  In  the  spring  of  1942  the  President  had  found  it  necessary 
to  intervene  in  order  to  prevent  BOLERO  from  being  slowed  down.^ 
And  although  it  was  the  intention  of  those  who  advocated  the  North 
African  campaign  to  do  no  more  than  postpone  BOLERO  and 
ROUNDUP  (if,  indeed,  they  admitted  the  necessity  of  any  delay  at 
all),  the  fact  remained  that,  in  shifting  to  TORCH,  they  had  altered 
the  basis  for  planning,  as  far  as  the  immediate  future  was  concerned.  At 
the  very  least,  they  had  opened  the  subject  of  basic  strategy  to  a  search- 
ing review. 

Discussion  began  promptly  after  the  tentative  adoption  of  the 
TORCH  plan  on  24  July  1942.  Representatives  of  the  Navy  made  it 
clear  that  in  their  estimation  Allied  strategy  was  in  the  process  of  re- 
orientation, not  only  in  the  direction  of  the  Mediterranean  but  also 
toward  the  Pacific.^  Regarding  the  deployment  of  air  forces  in  particu- 
lar, the  Navy  representatives  argued,  in  effect,  that  the  build-up  of  air 
strength  in  the  United  Kingdom  had  been  an  integral  part  of  the 
BOLERO-ROUNDUP  plan,  that  its  purpose  was  to  support  the  inva- 
sion of  Europe,  and  that,  since  ROUNDUP  no  longer  constituted  the 
primary  project,  aircraft  could  now  be  considered  as  a  separate  feature, 
committed  to  the  war  against  Germany  only  insofar  as  they  were  re- 

274 


THE   CASABLANCA  DIRECTIVE 


quired  by  TORCH  and  operations  in  the  Middle  East.  Admiral  Leahy 
pointed  out  that,  whatever  commitments  were  contemplated,  it  would 
have  to  be  understood  that  U.S.  forces  then  operating  in  the  Southwest 
Pacific  "must  and  will  be  maintained."  Admiral  Cooke  referred  signifi- 
cantly to  the  equipping  of  a  large  number  of  island  air  bases.^ 

There  had  even  been  some  talk,  while  conversations  were  still  being 
held  regarding  TORCH,  of  shifting  to  the  offensive  in  the  Pacific.  The 
critical  question  at  that  point  was  whether  the  U.S.S.R.  would  con- 
tinue to  be  an  effective  ally.  Should  she  succeed  in  her  battle  to  hold 
off  the  German  army,  there  would  be  no  doubt  about  the  need  for 
maintaining  the  maximum  pressure  on  Germany.  If,  however,  Soviet 
resistance  were  to  collapse,  Navy  spokesmen  urged  that  the  maximum 
Allied  effort,  or  that  of  the  United  States  at  any  rate,  should  be  shifted 
to  the  war  against  Japan.  In  any  case,  they  insisted  that  Allied  strategy 
had  become  too  specialized  and  that  production  of  weapons  should  be 
so  balanced  as  to  meet  more  than  one  eventuality.* 

As  far  as  the  air  war  was  concerned,  the  entire  case  presented  by  the 
proponents  of  the  Pacific  strategy  appeared  to  AAF  observers  to  rest 
on  two  fundamental  misconceptions  regarding  current  plans—in  addi- 
tion of  course  to  the  Navy's  highly  developed  sense  of  responsibility 
for  a  theater  of  operations  peculiarly  its  own.  In  the  first  place,  the 
Navy  had  erred  in  considering  the  projected  bomber  offensive  from  the 
United  Kingdom  by  USAAF  planes  to  be  inseparable  from  the  notion 
of  air  support  for  a  European  invasion.  If  support  of  ground  and  sea 
operations  had  been  the  principal  mission  of  the  heavy  bombers,  then 
it  would  have  been  perfectly  logical  to  argue  that  once  those  operations 
had  been  indefinitely  postponed  so  likewise  had  the  need  for  the  heavy 
bomber  activity  which  was  to  support  them.  But  to  do  so  was  obviously 
to  misinterpret  the  nature  of  the  strategic  bombardment  program.  Both 
the  English  and  American  air  representatives  among  the  Combined 
Planners  stoutly  maintained  that  long-range  attacks  on  German  in- 
dustry and  communications  had  been  and  must  continue  to  be  consid- 
ered as  a  project  preliminary  to  but  otherwise  quite  independent  of  any 
European  invasion— a  separate  offensive  operation  in  a  theater  which 
the  postponement  of  invasion  had  made  for  the  immediately  foreseeable 
future  entirely  an  air  theater.  To  all  of  these  arguments  the  Navy 
spokesmen  replied  that  the  maximum  pressure  of  air  bombardment 
could  only  be  maintained  when  coordinated  with  ground  and  sea 
operations." 

275 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES  IN  WORLD  WAR  II 

According  to  the  AAF  way  of  thinking,  there  was  also  a  tendency 
among  both  naval  and  ground  men  to  misinterpret  the  role  of  air  power 
in  the  TORCH  strategy  itself.  General  Arnold  and  the  AAF  planners 
had  not  found  it  easy  to  reconcile  TORCH  with  their  original  concep- 
tion of  a  combined  bomber  offensive  from  the  United  Kingdom.  They 
had  accepted  the  plan  only  after  strenuous  debate,  and  during  the  re- 
mainder of  1942  they  continued  to  consider  it  a  diversion  from  the 
main  business  of  bombing  the  sources  of  German  war  power.^  Having 
accepted  it,  however,  they  were  concerned  to  implement  it  as  deci- 
sively as  possible,  and  as  the  plan  unfolded  they  were  ready  enough  to 
see  certain  putative  advantages  accruing  to  the  air  arm  in  the  way  of 
alternate  bases  of  operations  and  a  resulting  flexibility  of  planning.'^ 
TORCH  was,  they  believed,  an  extremely  dangerous  mission  which 
would  require  the  use  of  all  air  forces  not  engaged  in  essential  opera- 
tions elsewhere.  At  the  same  time,  they  considered  bombing  operations 
from  the  United  Kingdom,  at  the  expense  of  which  any  diversions  to 
Africa  must  obviously  be  made,  to  be  not  only  of  primary  importance 
in  the  longer  perspective  but  an  immediately  essential  part  of  the 
TORCH  plan.  In  addition  to  providing  air  forces  in  support  of  African 
land  operations,  it  would  be  necessary  to  leave  a  striking  force  in  the 
United  Kingdom  to  contain  a  substantial  portion  of  the  Luftwaffe  in 
northwestern  Europe,  and  so  to  prevent  it  from  concentrating  danger- 
ously against  the  Allied  forces  in  the  Mediterranean  and  Africa.  Air 
forces  in  the  Middle  East  would  also  contribute  toward  this  objective  of 
dispersing  the  enemy  air  power.  Conversely,  air  operations  in  Africa  and 
the  Middle  East  would  contribute  to  the  success  of  the  bomber  offensive 
from  the  United  Kingdom,  even  though  the  latter  had  been  somewhat 
depleted  in  order  to  make  such  air  activity  possible  in  the  south. 
Although  definitely  a  diversion,  the  African  project  would  tend  to  dis- 
perse German  air  strength  and  thus  make  the  bombing  of  Germany  an 
easier  matter.® 

From  this  point  of  view,  the  European  and  North  African  and 
Middle  Eastern  areas  of  conflict  became  one  theater  as  far  as  air  opera- 
tions were  concerned.  The  AAF  even  hoped  to  exploit  the  mutually 
complementary  nature  of  those  operations  to  the  fullest  extent  possible 
by  uniting  them  under  one  air  commander— who,  incidentally,  could 
see  to  it  that  combat  units  diverted  to  Africa  would  be  returned,  upon 
completion  of  their  mission  or  during  periods  of  minimum  activity,  for 
276 


THE   CASABLANCA  DIRECTIVE 


the  major  bombardment  campaign  from  the  United  Kingdom.*  Mean- 
while, the  AAF  was  content  to  strike  at  Germany  from  any  available 
bases  and  recognized  the  supposed  advantages  to  be  obtained  in  the 
Mediterranean  areas  in  the  way  of  fine  bombing  weather  and  the  even- 
tud  accessibility  of  Italian  industrial  objectives.^ 

In  this  way  it  was  possible  for  AAF  planners  (with  substantial  back- 
ing from  General  Marshall  and  OPD)  to  rationalize  TORCH  without 
too  seriously  compromising  their  original  idea  of  a  combined  bomber 
offensive  against  Germany.  But  it  was  a  rationale  in  which  the  air  re- 
quirements of  the  United  Kingdom  enjoyed  a  much  stronger  position 
than  they  did  in  Navy  thinking.  As  a  matter  of , fact,  the  AAF  interpre- 
tation of  the  TORCH  strategy,  arising  as  it  did  out  of  strictly  air  con- 
siderations, was  not  at  first  shared  by  all  Army  authorities.  Certainly 
General  Eisenhower  was  prepared  in  September  1942  to  bring  bomb- 
ing operations  from  the  United  Kingdom  to  a  complete  halt  if  neces- 
sary in  order  that  Eighth  Air  Force  resources  might  be  devoted  entirely 
to  preparing  for  TORCH.^^ 

Problems  of  Strategy  and  Control 

The  official  AAF  position,  originally  outlined  in  AWPD-i  in  Sep- 
tember 1941,+  was  reaffirmed  with  little  essential  change  in  September 
1942.  In  answer  to  a  request  from  the  President  for  a  statement  of  the 
requirements  of  the  Army  and  Navy  and  of  U.S.  production  for  the 
Allies  "in  order  to  have  complete  air  ascendancy  over  the  enemy,"" 
AAF  planners  issued  on  9  September  a  document  known  as  AWPD-42, 
which  served  as  the  basis  for  all  AAF  strategic  planning  prior  to  the 
Casablanca  conference  of  January  1943. 

The  authors  of  AWPD-42  held  that  it  would  not  be  possible  to 
mount  an  effective  air  offensive  simultaneously  against  both  Germany 
and  Japau  with  the  resources  available,  especially  in  view  of  the  fact 
that  U.S.  air  forces  would  have  to  be  employed  also  in  support  of  land 
operations  in  North  Africa,  the  Middle  East,  and  Burma,  in  support  of 
amphibious  operations  in  the  South  and  Southwest  Pacific,  and  in  con- 
nection with  antisubmarine  patrol  and  hemisphere  defense.  In  a  choice 
between  Germany  and  Japan,  all  considerations  still  favored  Germany 
as  the  objective  of  first  priority.  Allied  armed  forces  were  not  within 
striking  distance  of  Japanese  military  strength  at  its  vital  sources.  A  sus- 


*  See  above,  pp.  61-66. 


t  See  Vol.  1, 145-50. 


277 


THE  ARMY   AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


tained  air  offensive  could  not  therefore  be  waged  against  Japan  unless 
use  of  the  Soviet  maritime  provinces  was  secured,  a  doubtful  contin- 
gency. The  European  situation,  on  the  other  hand,  presented  excellent 
opportunities  for  effective  use  of  the  air  weapon.  Indeed,  in  the  initial 
stages  of  a  war  against  the  European  Axis,  air  power  alone  could  be 
brought  directly  to  bear  against  Hitler's  stronghold. 

As  the  AAF  planners  saw  it,  the  strategic  outlook  in  Europe  was  as 
follows.  By  the  time  the  air  strength  contemplated  in  AWPD-42  could 
be  made  ready  for  employment,  large  Axis  ground  forces  might  well 
be  released  from  the  Russian  front  for  action  elsewhere.  Thus,  with 
ground  forces  of  the  Allied  nations  numerically  inferior  to  those 
available  for  deployment  by  the  Axis  on  the  western  front,  it  would  be 
necessary  to  depend  heavily  upon  numerically  superior  Allied  air 
forces,  which  should  be  used  to  deplete  the  air  power  of  the  enemy  and 
to  undermine  the  economic  structure  which  supported  his  land  forces. 
For  1943  and  the  early  part  of  1944,  priority  should  accordingly  be 
given  to  an  air  offensive  against  Germany.  When  that  operation  was 
successfully  accomplished,  as  it  could  be  by  mid- 1944  if  the  over-all 
requirements  of  63,068  combat  aircraft  for  1943  were  met,  it  would 
then  be  feasible  to  mount  a  combined  land  offensive  against  Germany 
and  an  air  offensive  against  Japan,  either  successively  or  simultaneously, 
in  the  latter  part  of  1944. 

The  projected  air  offensive  against  Germany  would  take  the  form  of 
a  combined  strategic  bombardment  offensive  such  as  both  U.S.  and 
British  airmen  had  contemplated  since  the  entry  of  the  United  States 
into  the  war.  The  US  AAF,  with  an  operational  bomber  force  of  2,225 
planes  deployed  in  the  European  theater  by  January  1944,  would  con- 
centrate on  the  "systematic  destruction  of  selected  vital  elements  of  the 
German  military  and  industrial  machine  through  precision  bombing  in 
daylight."  The  RAF  would  concentrate  upon  *'mass  air  attacks  of  in- 
dustrial areas  at  night,  to  break  down  morale,"  an  effort  expected,  in 
view  of  an  assumed  shortage  of  skilled  labor  in  Germany,  to  have  a 
"pronounced  effect  upon  production."" 

The  policy  thus  enunciated  was  one  to  which  General  Arnold  was 
personally  devoted  and  in  which  he  was  enthusiastically  supported  by 
Generals  Spaatz  and  Eaker.^^  Some  doubts  arose  during  the  fall  of  1942 
as  to  the  suitability  of  the  United  Kingdom  as  a  base  for  a  day  bomber 
offensive  because  of  the  dismal  data  compiled  regarding  weather  con- 
ditions in  northwestern  Europe.  But  these  doubts,  insofar  as  they 

278 


THE   CASABLANCA  DIRECTIVE 


affected  basic  strategic  planning,  were  of  minor  importance.  At  most 
it  was  seriously  debated  whether  the  heavy  bomber  force  should,  in 
event  of  a  successful  invasion  of  North  Africa,  be  moved  to  bases  on 
the  Mediterranean  during  the  winter  months  where  weather  conditions 
at  that  season  presumably  would  be  much  more  favorable  to  precision 
bombing  than  in  the  United  Kingdom.^^  Moreover,  it  was  confidently 
expected  that  improvement  in  blind-bombing  techniques  would  suc- 
cessfully circumvent  conditions  of  poor  visibility. 

Throughout  AAF  thinking  there  may  be  detected  the  well-founded 
fear  that  U.S.  air  forces  would  be  dispersed  to  all  parts  of  the  globe  in 
answer  to  particular  local  needs  but  without  reference  to  any  one  stra- 
tegic plan  by  which  the  strength  of  the  AAF  could  be  concentrated 
with  decisive  effect.  Remarking  to  his  staff  in  August  1942  that  a  war 
could  not  be  won  with  forces  scattered  all  over  the  world,  Arnold  in- 
sisted that  theater  commanders  in  minor  theaters  be  instructed  to  get 
along  with  a  minimum  air  force  so  that  "an  overwhelming  number"  of 
planes  would  be  available  in  major  theaters.  "We  have,"  Arnold  told 
his  staff,  "an  education  job  as  well  as  an  allocation  job."  In  another  con- 
nection he  asserted  that  successful  air  operations  depended  on  "the  con- 
tinuous application  of  massed  air  power  against  critical  objectives."^*^ 
This  doctrine  of  the  concentration  of  force  was  fundamental  to  all 
AAF  strategic  planning  and  was,  of  course,  especially  applicable  to  the 
proposed  bomber  offensive  from  the  United  Kingdom.^® 

Appreciating  the  fact  that  all  Allied  commanders  did  not  fully  share 
this  point  of  view  and  anticipating  a  battle  over  the  entire  problem  of 
diversions  from  the  United  Kingdom,  AAF  Headquarters  took  steps 
to  convert  the  doubtful  and  to  assemble  an  impressive  array  of  opinion 
in  support  of  its  strategic  policy.  In  late  August,  General  Spaatz  was  re- 
quested to  enlist  the  aid  of  key  commanders  in  the  theater,  for  it  was 
feared  that  unless  such  support  could  be  obtained  "we  stand  a  chance 
of  having  our  air  strength  there  so  dissipated  by  diversions  elsewhere 
as  to  be  only  a  token  effort."^^  Another  and  similar  request  was  made 
on  the  completion  of  AWPD-42  in  September.^^ 

Partly,  no  doubt,  as  a  result  of  General  Spaatz'  influence,  Eisenhower 
indorsed  the  idea  of  the  interdependence  of  air  operations  in  all  African 
and  European  areas.  On  5  September  he  sent  a  message  to  General  Mar- 
shall in  which  he  made  the  point  that  the  United  Kingdom  was  one  of 
the  few  places  in  the  world  at  that  time  in  a  position  both  to  support 
operations  of  the  TORCH  forces  and  to  strike  at  the  heart  of  the  prin- 

279 


THE   ARMY   AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

cipal  enemy.  Moreover,  it  was  a  place  where  continuity  of  action 
could  be  counted  on  through  the  air  operations  of  the  British.  It  would 
therefore  be  necessary,  he  stated,  to  capitalize  on  these  advantages.  He 
planned  if  necessary  to  use  the  entire  U.S.  air  force  that  was  in  the  United 
Kingdom  in  support  of  TORCH.  Operating  over  western  Europe,  the 
air  force  could  contain  a  large  part  of  the  Luftwaffe  in  the  north  and, 
when  necessary,  could  be  shifted  temporarily  to  African  bases.  Ac- 
cordingly he  requested  that  a  strong  force,  especially  of  heavy  bomb- 
ers, be  maintained  in  the  United  Kingdom,  amounting  by  1 5  October 
1942  to  ten  heavy  bomber  groups  and  five  fighter  groups.  He  urged 
the  deployment  in  the  United  Kingdom  of  twenty  heavy  bomber,  ten 
medium  bomber,  and  ten  fighter  groups  by  i  January  or  sooner  if  pos- 
sible.^^  In  view  of  the  service  being  performed  by  Eighth  Air  Force 
bombers  in  the  United  Kingdom,  General  Eisenhower  also  was  pre- 
vailed upon  to  rescind  on  12  September  his  earlier  order  terminating 
bombing  operations  there  in  favor  of  TORCH.  Other  messages,  includ- 
ing opinions  from  Generals  Patton,  Clark,  and  Spaatz,  supported  his 
estimate  of  air  requirements  and  gave  substance  to  the  idea  that  air 
forces  deployed  in  Europe  and  Africa  should  be  considered  as  mutually 
complementary.^** 

These  communications  arrived  in  Washington,  as  AAF  Headquar- 
ters had  hoped,  just  in  time  for  a  critical  debate  in  the  JCS  over  fifteen 
groups  reallocated  in  July  from  BOLERO  to  the  Pacific.  On  28  August 
the  Joint  U.S.  Strategic  Committee  had  submitted  a  report  to  the  Joint 
Staff  Planners  on  the  detailed  deployment  of  these  units.  It  was  assumed 
that  the  provisions  of  CCS  94,  which  had  authorized  the  diversion, 
were  binding  and,  with  critical  operations  well  under  way  on  Guadal- 
canal, there  was  no  discussion  regarding  where  the  diverted  air  units 
should  be  deployed  when  ready,  but  Army  and  Navy  members  disa- 
greed radically  as  to  when  they  were  to  be  made  available.  The  Army 
representatives  maintained  that  no  withdrawal  should  be  made  from 
BOLERO,  except  for  one  heavy  bombardment  group  already  ordered 
to  the  Pacific,  until  TORCH,  the  Middle  East,  and  the  United  King- 
dom, in  that  order,  had  been  brought  up  to  strength  in  air  units  as  indi- 
cated in  CCS  91,  dated  7  July  1942.  The  Navy  proved  willing  to  admit 
the  importance  of  TORCH  and  of  commitments  to  the  Middle  East 
but  insisted  that  the  South  and  Southwest  Pacific  be  given  precedence 
over  the  United  Kingdom,  which  thus  would  fall  into  the  position  of 
fifth  and  lowest  priority.^^  Support  for  the  Navy's  position  came  in  a 
280 


THE    CASABLANCA  DIRECTIVE 

flood  of  requests  from  the  Pacific  during  August  and  September  for 
additional  aircraft.  Nor  did  these  requests  necessarily  embody  only  the 
naval  point  of  view.  Maj.  Gen.  Millard  F.  Harmon,  commanding  gen- 
eral of  U.S.  Army  Forces  in  the  South  Pacific,  like  all  commanders  in 
active  theaters,  strove  vigorously  to  secure  reinforcement  for  his  com- 
mand; and  in  view  of  the  brisk  fighting  then  taking  place  in  those  parts, 
he  had  a  better  talking  point  than  most.^^ 

To  accept  the  lowest  priority  for  BOLERO,  it  was  estimated, 
would  be  to  prevent  any  significant  increase  in  the  force  of  U.S.  bomb- 
ers in  the  United  Kingdom  for  the  rest  of  the  year.^^  But  it  appears 
that  General  Arnold's  opposition  was  based  on  considerations  larger 
than  the  immediate  effect  upon  the  bombardment  campaign  in  Europe. 
Only  two  of  the  fifteen  groups  in  question  belonged  to  the  critical  cate- 
gory of  heavy  bombers,  and  one  of  these  had  apparently  already  been 
irretrievably  lost  to  the  Pacific*  Arnold  was  chiefly  concerned  to  pre- 
serve against  unnecessary  diversion  the  projected  strategic  bombard- 
ment program  and  to  protect  a  necessary  priority  for  the  war  against 
Germany.  It  is  not  surprising,  therefore,  that  he  fought  the  threat  of 
further  diversion  of  AAF  units  to  the  Pacific  with  every  possible  argu- 
ment and  with  the  weightiest  military  opinion  available. 

On  the  one  hand,  he  reiterated  the  standard  AAF  strategic  doctrine: 
that  Germany  was  the  chief  enemy,  that  for  many  months  to  come  the 
only  way  of  striking  offensively  and  decisively  at  Germany's  vitals  was 
by  aerial  bombardment,  and  that,  in  view  of  the  need  for  coordinated 
air  effort  in  both  Europe  and  Africa  during  the  forthcoming  TORCH 
campaign,  those  theaters  must  be  considered  mutually  complementary. 
In  addition,  he  pointed  out  that  diversions  to  the  Middle  East,  to 
TORCH,  and  now  to  the  Pacific  left  only  twenty-five  of  the  fifty- 
four  groups  contemplated  in  the  BOLERO-ROUNDUP  plan— even 
on  paper.  On  the  other  hand,  he  argued  not  only  that  the  Pacific  areas 
had  on  hand  enough  aircraft  to  keep  the  Japanese  at  bay  but  that  they 
lacked  adequate  base  facilities  for  any  substantial  increase  in  air 
strength.^*  Army  intelligence  estimated  that  American  air  forces  in  the 
Pacific,  amounting  to  a  total  of  some  5,000  planes  (including  those 
carrierbome),  already  outnumbered  the  Japanese  air  force,  which 
would  not  likely  reach  4,000  before  the  spring  of  1943.^^  As  for  the 
capacity  of  Pacific  bases,  Arnold  decided  to  inspect  them  personally  to 
determine  at  first  hand  what  facilities  were  available.  JCS  discussions 

*  See  again,  pp.  61-62. 

281 


THE   ARMY   AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

accordingly  were  recessed  on  15  September  pending  his  return  from 
the  inspection.^^  The  result  of  his  personal  investigation  was  registered 
on  6  October  in  a  stated  belief  that  there  were  in  the  general  area  the 
maximum  number  of  aircraft  which  base  facilities  could  handle.^^ 

Within  a  week,  it  was  clear  that  JCS  discussions  had  reached  a  virtual 
deadlock.  Admiral  King  was  willing  to  concede  priority  to  North 
Africa  and  the  Middle  East,  although  he  felt  that  neither  exceeded  in 
immediacy  the  needs  of  the  critical  campaign  in  the  South  Pacific.  But 
both  he  and  Admiral  Leahy  were  unalterably  opposed  to  giving  the 
bomber  offensive  from  the  United  Kingdom  precedence  over  any 
operations  in  the  Pacific.^® 

Meanwhile,  the  military  situation  in  the  South  Pacific  had  become  so 
critical  that,  on  24  October,  President  Roosevelt  intervened.  In  an 
urgent  memo  to  the  Joint  Chiefs  of  Staff,  he  declared  it  to  be  necessary 
at  all  costs  to  hold  GuadalcanaP®  and  added:  "We  will  soon  find  our- 
selves engaged  on  two  active  fronts  and  we  must  have  adequate  air 
support  in  both  places  even  though  it  means  delay  in  our  other  com- 
mitments, particularly  to  England.  Our  long  range  plans  could  be  set 
back  for  months  if  we  fail  to  throw  our  full  strength  in  our  immediate 
and  impending  conflicts/'  The  President's  action  had  the  effect  of 
settling  the  problem  of  diversion*  for  the  time  being  on  the  ground  of 
unavoidable  military  necessity  without  seriously  prejudicing  either 
the  case  for  the  war  against  Germany  or  that  for  the  strategic  bomber 
offensive  from  the  United  Kingdom.  His  memo  gave  temporary  prior- 
ity to  the  urgent  demands  of  the  Pacific  but,  by  its  silence  on  the  sub- 
ject of  basic  strategy,  it  implied  a  strict  adherence  to  the  status  quo. 
And  so  ended  the  first  and  in  a  sense  the  decisive  phase  of  the  contro- 
versy. Never  again  were  the  claims  of  the  Pacific  presented  with  so 
great  determination,  and  when  the  problem  of  diversion  again  arose,  it 
concerned  the  Mediterranean  rather  than  the  Pacific. 

American  air  commanders  had  become  reconciled  to  the  prospect  of 
a  minimum  bombing  effort  from  the  United  Kingdom  for  the  rest  of 
1942  and  had  even  been  able  to  see  in  a  rapid  and  decisive  North 
African  campaign  the  promise  of  ultimate  assistance  to  the  strategic 
bombing  effort.  As  early  as  17  September,  AAF  Headquarters  had  pro- 
posed the  creation  of  a  single  air  theater  embracing  all  operations 
against  the  European  Axis.^^  Such  an  over-all  command  would  make 
it  possible  to  capitalize  on  the  flexibility  and  mobility  inherent  in  air 

•  See  Vol.  IV  for  air  deployment  in  SOPAC. 
282 


THE   CASABLANCA  DIRECTIVE 


power;  planes  not  only  could  be  moved  when  necessary  from  the 
Uniter  Kingdom  to  Africa  with  a  minimum  of  confusion  but  they 
could  je  brought  back  to  the  United  Kingdom  as  the  occasion  dictated 
with  equally  little  administrative  difficulty.  The  proposed  "theater  air 
force"  had  still  another  virtue.  As  General  Spaatz  put  it  late  in  October: 
"One  of  the  principal  advantages  to  establishing  a  single  European  Air 
Theatre  is  that  it  will  have  greater  influence  in  attracting  forces  to  this 
side  of  the  world  rather  than  to  the  Pacific."^^  The  English  weather  in 
October,  moreover,  made  the  possibility  of  operating  a  bomber  force 
from  Mediterranean  bases  a  reasonably  attractive  prospect. 

Late  in  that  month,  conversations  between  Spaatz  and  Eisenhower 
resulted  in  the  first  formal  step  toward  establishing  the  proposed  theater 
air  force.  A  plan  of  19  November,  involving  the  Eighth  and  Twelfth 
Air  Forces  only,  charged  the  commanding  general  of  the  USAAF  in 
the  European  theater  with  the  duty  of  advising  the  theater  commander 
on  all  matters  in  which  USAAF  units  in  ETOUSA  were  concerned,  of 
commanding  all  AAF  units  in  the  theater,  of  preparing  plans  for  their 
operations,  and  of  coordinating  strategic  plans  and  operations  with  the 
RAF.^'*  General  Eisenhower  was  inclined  to  postpone  action  on  this 
plan  until  the  capture  of  Tunisia,  by  providing  the  desired  air  bases,  had 
removed  the  problem  from  the  sphere  of  academic  discussion.*  But  on 
1 5  November,  Arnold  wrote  to  both  Spaatz  and  Eisenhower  expressing 
again  his  concern  that  "unless  we  are  careful,  we  will  find  our  air  effort 
in  Europe  dispersed  the  same  way  we  are  now  dispersed  all  around  the 
world."  Air  operations  in  Europe,  he  declared,  must  be  planned  and 
controlled  by  one  man;  and  as  the  man  for  the  job,  he  suggested  Gen- 
eral Spaatz.^^  Consequently,  Eisenhower  decided  to  act  at  once,  to  the 
extent  at  least  of  giving  the  plan  informal  effect.^^  On  i  December, 
Spaatz  was  transferred  to  Africa  as  Eisenhower's  air  adviser,  leaving 
Eaker  in  command  of  the  Eighth.^" 

To  give  this  informal  air  organization  official  status  would  require 
time.  Any  final  reorganization,  moreover,  would  have  to  take  into  con- 
sideration a  proposal  made  by  the  British  chiefs  of  staff,  on  or  about 
I  December,  for  control  of  all  Allied  air  forces  in  the  Mediterranean 
area  under  the  command  of  Air  Chief  Marshal  Tedder.  Eisenhower, 
insisting  that  his  problem  was  "immediate  and  critical"  and  "not  to  be 
confused  nor  its  solution  postponed  by  deliberate  study  of  an  overall 


•  For  a  discussion  of  the  proposed  theater  air  force  from  the  point  of  view  of  the 
North  African  theater,  see  above,  pp.  60-66,  105-7. 

283 


THE   ARMY  AIR   FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 


system  of  air  command,"  hoped  that  a  stopgap  arrangement  with 
Spaatz  acting  as  his  deputy  for  air  in  North  Africa  would  tide  him 
over  until  such  time  as  long-term  plans  could  be  made.®^  To  Arnold 
and  his  staff  in  Washington,  however,  the  problem  remained  one  of 
achieving  an  eventual  unification  of  all  air  efforts  in  Europe,  Africa, 
and  the  Middle  East.^^ 

Indeed,  General  Arnold  was  no  longer  content  merely  to  place  all 
U.S.  air  forces  operating  against  the  European  Axis  under  one  com- 
mand. He  wished  also  to  include  those  of  the  British  under  a  single 
Allied  air  commander.  On  lo  December  he  put  the  problem  to  Sir 
Charles  Portal: 

The  recent  air  operations  in  North  Africa  have  confirmed  my  opinion  that 
the  United  Nations  air  effort  against  the  European  Axis  should  be  unified  under 
the  command  of  one  supreme  commander.  At  the  present  time  we  are  carrying 
on  an  air  war  against  Germany  and  Italy  by  more  or  less  unrelated  air  efforts 
from  the  United  Kingdom,  North  Africa,  and  the  Middle  East.  Our  efforts  are 
being  opposed  by  a  very  efficient  air  force,  integrated  by  a  very  capable  supreme 
air  commander,  Goering.^^ 

In  this,  as  in  the  matter  of  the  over-all  U.S.  air  command,  Arnold  had 
uppermost  in  his  mind  the  strategic  air  offensive.  To  General  Spaatz 
he  wrote: 

By  appropriate  unification  of  command  the  North  African  bases  made  avail- 
able by  TORCH . . .  may  be  used  to  substantial  advantage  in  the  prosecution  of 
our  basic  strategic  plan  for  offensive  air  action  against  the  European  Axis.  With- 
out such  unification  the  North  African  front  is  apt,  I  believe,  to  prove  a  seriously 
deterring  factor  in  the  effective  employment  of  our  air  arm  as  a  striking  force.^® 

As  if  to  emphasize  the  point  of  these  last  remarks,  the  foundations  of 
Allied  strategy  were  shifting  once  more  in  the  direction  of  the  Medi- 
terranean. In  November,  Mr.  Churchill  had  argued  in  favor  of  attack- 
ing the  "underbelly"  of  the  European  monster,  and  the  British  chiefs 
of  staff  again  registered  their  opposition  to  any  plan  for  an  invasion  of 
western  Europe  before  such  time  as  Germany  showed  definite  signs  of 
weakening.  It  was  their  belief  that  Allied  strategy  should  depend  in  the 
immediate  future  upon  the  strategic  bombardment  of  Germany  from 
the  United  Kingdom  and  an  amphibious  campaign  in  the  Mediterranean 
to  exploit  TORCH.^^ 

However  welcome  to  the  AAF  may  have  been  the  emphasis  on 
strategic  bombardment,  a  project  for  exploiting  TORCH  was  con- 
templated by  the  U.S.  Joint  Chiefs  with  profound  misgivings.  It  had 
been  a  cardinal  principle  in  U.S.  strategic  doctrine  to  defeat  Germany 

284 


THE   CASABLANCA  DIRECTIVE 


by  a  cross-Channel  invasion  of  western  Europe  mounted  at  the  earliest 
feasible  moment.  That  invasion  had  been  postponed  once.  Operations 
"subsequent  to  TORCH"  would  probably  involve  further  postpone- 
ment in  favor  of  a  campaign  which,  inasmuch  as  it  did  not  contribute 
directly  to  the  plans  for  the  invasion  of  Germany,  had  to  be  considered 
an  indecisive  and  therefore  an  inadvisable  elfort.*^  On  27  November 
the  Joint  Strategic  Survey  Committee  assured  the  JCS  that  the  basic 
United  Nations  strategy,  as  originally  conceived,  was  sound.  But  on 
that  same  day  a  CPS  subcommittee,  appointed  on  19  November  to 
study  the  problem  of  further  action  in  the  Mediterranean,  recom- 
mended exploitation  of  TORCH  by  means  of  a  campaign  against 
Sicily.^2 

To  that  proposal,  the  USAAF  member  of  the  subcommittee  regis- 
tered vigorous  objection.  With  the  RAF  already  and  irrevocably  com- 
mitted to  the  large-scale  bombing  of  German  cities,  the  prospect  of  a 
post-TORCH  venture  in  the  Mediterranean  raised  a  question,  in  the 
view  of  the  AAF  at  least,  chiefly  of  the  further  dispersal  of  American 
air  forces.  Admitting  certain  advantages  in  an  attack  on  Sicily,  the 
AAF  representative  maintained  that  "the  heart  of  Germany's  capacity 
to  wage  war  is  in  Germany,"  that  a  strategic  bomber  offensive  alone 
could  at  the  moment  strike  effectively  at  that  objective,  and  that  any 
unnecessary  diversion  which  would  reduce  the  effectiveness  of  the 
bomber  offensive  should  not  be  undertaken.  Following  a  TORCH  vic- 
tory, he  advocated  that  such  forces  as  might  be  spared  from  the  defense 
of  Allied  positions  in  the  Mediterranean  area  should  be  made  available 
for  the  strategic  air  offensive  against  the  European  Axis,  North  Africa 
should  at  the  same  time  be  developed  as  an  efficient  air  operating  area, 
auxiliary  to  the  United  Kingdom  and  capable  of  maintaining  air  units 
from  the  United  Kingdom  with  a  minimum  transfer  of  ground  person- 
nel. In  this  way,  Mediterranean  shipping  could  be  protected  and 
Italian  objectives  could  be  bombed  by  long-range  bombers  during 
periods  when  weather  in  the  north  proved  unfavorable  to  precision 
bombardment.  It  followed  that  North  Africa  and  the  United  Kingdom 
should  be  considered  as  one  theater,  in  which  an  extremely  flexible  air 
arm  might  be  maintained  on  the  perimeter  of  Axis  Europe.'*'^ 

As  this  paper  indicates,  the  AAF  had  remained  firm  in  its  adherence 
to  the  principles  set  forth  in  AWPD-42,  Only  the  strategic  assumptions 
made  by  its  authors  had  been  changed  with  the  passage  of  time.  The 
Russian  front  no  longer  appeared  in  imminent  danger  of  disintegrating, 

285 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD   WAR  II 

and  in  a  memo  of  i6  November  for  the  JCS,  General  Arnold  laid 
emphasis  on  Germany's  mounting  embarrassment  rather  than  on  her 
growing  strength.  Two  indecisive  Russian  campaigns,  together  with 
the  Allied  invasion  of  North  Africa  and  aerial  bombardment  from  the 
United  Kingdom,  had  weakened  the  enemy.  All  of  which  pointed  to 
the  immediate  need  of  intensifying  to  the  utmost  the  pressure  against 
Germany  so  that  she  might  be  allowed  no  time  for  recuperation.  This 
end  could  only  be  achieved  by  increasing  the  weight  of  strategic  bom- 
bardment.^^ 

The  "Plan  for  the  Defeat  of  the  Axis  Powers/'  drafted  by  AAF 
Headquarters  on  i  December,  again  indorsed  the  soundness  of  current 
strategic  commitments.  Its  authors  insisted  that  Germany  remained 
the  principal  enemy,  that  the  only  way  to  defeat  her  was  by  land  inva- 
sion, that  such  an  invasion  could  succeed  only  if  preceded  by  strategic 
bombardment,  and  that  the  best  if  not  the  only  opportunity  for  both 
air  and  land  offensives  lay  in  operations  from  the  United  Kingdom. 
Air  operations  should  be  aimed  initially  against  the  sources  of  German 
air  and  submarine  strength,  which  constituted  the  chief  immediate 
threats  to  Allied  plans.  When  the  German  Air  Force  had  been  suffi- 
ciently reduced,  the  RAF  would  switch  to  day  bombing  in  addition  to 
its  night  operations.  It  was  the  optimistic  hope  of  the  authors  that  a  com- 
bined bomber  offensive,  pressed  to  the  fullest  extent  of  Allied  capabil- 
ities, would  make  an  invasion  of  Germany  feasible  by  the  fall  or  winter 
of  1943.^^ 

But  further  study  by  agencies  of  the  Combined  Chiefs  of  Staff  served 
chiefly  to  reveal  fundamental  cleavages  of  opinion.  On  30  December 
the  subcommittee  of  the  CPS  to  which  the  problem  of  post-TORCH 
operations  had  been  returned  in  November  reported  to  the  CCS  that 
it  would  be  impossible  to  reconcile  the  divergent  views  until  global 
strategy  had  been  thoroughly  reviewed.*®  The  report  gave  formal  ex- 
pression to  a  need  which  many  had  recognized  for  some  time.  In  the  ab- 
sence of  clear  strategic  policy  it  was  especially  hard  to  plan  for  an 
operation  such  as  the  bomber  offensive  from  the  United  Kingdom, 
which  had  been  projected  according  to  a  long-range  plan  and,  while 
having  no  immediate  minimum  requirement,  could  absorb  any  con- 
ceivable increase  in  air  units.*^  And  so  it  was  that  at  the  beginning  of 
1943  the  hopes  of  the  AAF  for  its  program  of  strategic  bombardment 
depended  upon  the  outcome  of  the  forthcoming  conference  of  the 
Combined  Chiefs  of  Staff  with  the  two  heads  of  state  at  Casablanca. 
286 


THE   CASABLANCA  DIRECTIVE 


On  5  January,  as  has  previously  been  noted,*  General  Spaatz  was 
placed  in  command  of  the  newly  created  Allied  Air  Force  in  North 
Africa.  In  addition  to  his  duties  in  that  connection  he  held  responsibil- 
ity under  Eisenhower  for  coordinating  air  operations  between  the 
Eighth  Air  Force  and  the  Allied  Air  Force  and  for  allocating,  when 
necessary,  replacement  aircraft  and  crews  among  the  Eighth  Air  Force, 
the  Twelfth  Air  Force,  and  the  Eastern  Air  Command.*®  The  arrange- 
ment was  weighted  heavily  in  favor  of  the  North  African  campaign. 
But  it  retained  the  principle  of  the  complementary  character  of  air 
operations  in  the  two  areas,  Europe  and  North  Africa.  It  did  not,  of 
course,  attempt  to  provide  for  that  over-all  control  of  Allied  air  power 
for  which  General  Arnold  hoped,  although,  as  he  himself  said,  by  unify- 
ing Allied  effort  in  one  area,  at  least  it  was  a  step  in  the  right  direction.*® 

By  this  time,  in  fact,  events  no  longer  pointed  so  imperatively  toward 
a  unified  command  for  even  the  AAF  units  operating  against  the 
European  Axis  as  had  been  the  case  during  the  earlier  phases  of 
TORCH.  The  drive  for  Tunisia  had  slowed  down  discouragingly,  and 
the  anticipated  base  areas  for  future  strategic  bombing  of  Axis  objec- 
tives had  not  materialized.  It  no  longer  appeared  likely  that  upon  the 
successful  completion  of  the  North  African  campaign  Eisenhower  and 
Spaatz  would  be  free  to  return  to  the  United  Kingdom  for  an  invasion 
of  western  Europe  in  1943.^**  "Operations  subsequent  to  TORCH" 
were  being  discussed,  and,  under  British  pressure,  it  seemed  probable 
that  something  of  the  sort  would  be  undertaken  in  preference  to  an 
early  campaign  in  northern  Europe.  As  for  Arnold's  plan  for  a  unified 
Allied  air  force,  too  many  obstacles  lay  in  its  road.  It  required  the  prior 
existence  of  a  supreme  commander  for  all  Allied  forces  operating 
against  the  European  Axis  and  a  roughly  parallel  organization  and  de- 
ployment of  British  and  U.S.  air  forces,  neither  of  which  circumstances 
prevailed.  The  plan  was  apparently  never  presented  to  the  CCS.*^^ 

The  idea  of  the  essential  unity  of  air  activity  in  the  United  Kingdom, 
North  Africa,  and  the  Middle  East  still  flourished,  especially  in  AAF 
Headquarters.  It  had  been  a  useful  concept  in  the  fall  of  1942;  no 
doubt  it  had  helped  to  keep  the  projected  bomber  offensive  from  being 
indefinitely  postponed  as  a  result  of  diversions  to  Africa  and  to  the 
Pacific.  It  represented,  too,  a  principle  of  command  well  suited  to  the 
extraordinary  mobility  of  the  air  weapon.  But  it  remained  for  the  Casa- 
blanca conference  to  establish  beyond  dispute  the  right  of  the  AAF  to 

•  See  above,  p.  no. 

287 


THE  ARMY   AIR  FORCES  IN   WORLD  WAR  II 

demonstrate  what  it  could  accomplish  by  strategic  bombardment  from 
the  United  Kingdom. 

Aircraft  Production  Priorities 

For  the  AAF  to  implement  its  strategic  doctrine,  it  was  not  enough 
to  secure  the  necessary  decisions  concerning  grand  strategy.  It  was  also 
a  question  of  securing  the  means  with  which  to  operate.  In  a  sense,  of 
course,  the  problem  of  obtaining  the  aircraft  required  for  the  air  offen- 
sive against  Germany  was  really  a  part  of  the  broader  strategic  prob- 
lem. AAF  requirements  for  defensive  and  supporting  actions  in  all 
minor  theaters  could  be  established  with  relative  ease.  Requirements 
for  the  bomber  offensive,  on  the  other  hand,  stood  or  fell  according  to 
whether  the  project  had  or  had  not  an  unassailable  place  in  Allied 
strategy.  Regardless  of  strategic  decisions,  however,  it  remained  a  dif- 
ficult task  to  assign  priorities  so  as  to  make  possible  a  large-scale  air 
war  in  Europe  without  prejudicing  other  essential  programs. 

It  had  been  early  recognized  that  to  carry  out  such  an  offensive  as  an 
effective  action  preliminary  to  invasion  would  require  a  large  force  of 
bombers  and  fighters.  The  requirements  of  the  bomber  offensive  thus 
became  the  critical  item  in  the  aircraft  production  program  which, 
when  it  had  taken  account  of  the  minimum  needs  of  other  theaters  and 
of  training  projects,  had  reached  a  startling  figure.  The  1942  produc- 
tion goal  had  been  set  at  approximately  60,000  planes,  of  which  45,000 
were  to  be  of  combat  type.  Of  these  60,000  aircraft,  39,274  fell  under 
Army  cognizance,  10,190  under  that  of  the  U.S.  Navy,  and  the  rest 
were  to  be  produced  for  the  Allies.^^  By  the  fall  of  1942  it  was  clear 
that  the  objective  for  1943  would  have  to  be  much  larger.^^  In  addition 
to  the  fact  that  strategic  considerations,  being  now  more  immediate 
than  before,  could  be  more  accurately  assessed,  production  had  lagged 
behind  stated  requirements.  Indeed,  production  reached  a  rate  of  4,000 
planes  per  month  only  in  November  of  1942.'* 

The  authors  of  AWPD-42,  the  plan  drafted  in  response  to  the 
President's  request  of  24  August  for  a  statement  of  needs  for  "complete 
air  ascendency  over  the  enemy,"  faced  a  difficult  task.  Requirements 
for  air  support  in  other  theaters,  being  minimum  and  relatively  easy  to 
measure  according  to  the  nature  of  the  land  and  sea  action  anticipated, 
needed  little  proof.  But  in  the  case  of  the  bomber  offensive  it  was  nec- 
essary to  demonstrate  both  the  nature  and  scope  of  the  projected 
operations  in  order  to  justify  the  size  of  force  required;  and  as  yet  there 

288 


THE   CASABLANCA  DIRECTIVE 


existed  little  data  on  which  to  proceed  concerning  precision  bombing 
under  combat  conditions  in  the  ETO.  When  the  paper  was  begun,  only 
the  results  of  the  first  five  missions  flown  by  the  Eighth  Air  Force  were 
at  hand.  The  Job  was  finished  in  two  weeks,  which  meant  that  at  most 
the  authors  could  have  taken  account  of  only  the  first  ten  heavy 
bomber  operations  flown  from  the  United  Kingdom  by  American 
planes.  RAF  and  German  experience  provided  useful  supplementary 
information,  but  the  task  presented  in  the  main  an  academic  problem 
which  the  authors  attacked  with  insight  and  realism. 

Beginning  with  the  confident  premise  that  experience  had  * 'shown 
that  it  is  perfectly  feasible  to  conduct  accurate,  high  level,  daylight 
bombing  under  combat  conditions,  in  the  face  of  enemy  antiaircraft  and 
fighter  opposition,''  the  paper  presented  a  specific  plan  for  American 
participation  in  a  combined  bomber  offensive.  In  order  to  realize  the 
objective  of  crippling  German  economy  at  its  nerve  centers,  it  was 
estimated  that  it  would  be  necessary  to  destroy  some  177  targets,  dis- 
tributed among  seven  target  systems.  Assuming  that  direct  hits  with 
high-explosive  bombs  would  do  the  job  and  that  an  average  circular 
error  of  1,000  feet  from  an  altitude  of  20,000  feet  might  be  expected, 
the  authors  estimated  the  necessary  bomb  tonnage,  and  from  that  cal- 
culated the  number  of  sorties  required.  The  two-fold  assumption  that 
under  European  conditions  five  or  six  operations  per  month  could  be 
performed  and  that  on  the  basis  of  British  experience  an  average  attri- 
tion rate  of  20  per  cent  per  month  might  be  anticipated  served  then  to 
fix  a  total  requirement  of  2,965  heavy  bombers.  If  this  full  force  could 
be  made  operational  in  the  theater  by  i  January  1944,  the  projected 
invasion  of  western  Europe  should  be  attempted  in  the  late  spring  of 
that  year.  To  be  more  specific,  it  was  estimated  that  one-third  of  the 
preliminary  task  of  strategic  bombardment  could  be  accomplished  by 
the  close  of  1943  and  that  thereafter  only  four  months  of  operations  by 
the  entire  force  would  be  required. 

When  to  requirements  for  the  bomber  offensive  against  Germany 
there  were  added  the  minimum  needs  of  air  forces  in  other  theaters, 
the  result  was  an  estimated  281  groups,  or  63,068  combat  aircraft,  needed 
for  all  AAF  operations  up  to,  but  not  including,  the  combined  assault 
on  the  continent  of  Europe.  Of  the  281  groups,  approximately  78 
would  be  necessary  for  operations  from  the  United  Kingdom.  The 
addition  of  aircraft  required  for  training  and  other  noncombat  pur- 
poses brought  the  total  of  AAF  requirements  for  1943  to  83,700 

289 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES  IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


planes.^^  The  Navy  apparently  had  estimated  its  requirements  to  be  in 
the  neighborhood  of  26,300  aircraft,  a  figure  which  included  1,250 
Army-type  land-based  bombers  of  the  leng-range  category.  For  these 
bombers  the  authors  of  AWPD-42  substituted  in  their  calculation  8,000 
trainers,  thereby  bringing  all  land-based  long-range  bombers  under 
AAF  cognizance,  and  entered  the  commitments  to  other  United  Na- 
tions at  22,440  planes.  Thus,  according  to  AWPD-42,  the  grand  total 
of  aircraft  required  from  U.S.  production  for  1943  became  139,190.^® 
Subsequent  events  altered  the  basis  for  calculation  only  slightly. 
When,  on  i  December  1942,  the  operational  and  strategic  considera- 
tions affecting  aircraft  requirements  again  were  reviewed,  the  general 
outlook  seemed  more  optimistic.  It  was  then  claimed  (without  too 
accurate  statistical  evidence)*  that  the  Germans  were  losing  6  fighters 
for  I  U.S.  bomber  destroyed,  instead  of  the  conservative  ratio  of  2  to 
I  tentatively  suggested  in  AWPD-42.  The  date  for  the  invasion  of 
Europe  was  now  advanced  from  the  spring  or  summer  of  1944  to  the 
end  of  1943,  but  estimates  regarding  aircraft  requirements  remained 
unaffected.^^ 

AWPD-42  met  stiff  opposition  from  the  outset.  It  was  evident  that 
an  aircraft  program  of  such  magnitude  would  compete  seriously  with 
the  Navy's  shipbuilding  program,  and  it  was  to  be  expected  that  the 
Navy  would  object  to  the  allocation  of  all  land-based  heavy  bombers 
to  the  AAF.  Without  stressing  this  latter  point,  Admiral  King  on  24 
September  rejected  the  plan  in  its  entirety It  was  also  clear  that  the 
aircraft  program  would  compete  with  the  Army  ground  program, 
especially  in  such  heavy  equipment  as  tanks,  antiaircraft  guns,  and 
armored  cars.  Nevertheless,  the  AAF  estimates  received  the  approval 
of  the  War  Department  General  StafF.^^  By  15  October  (it  is  not  ap- 
parent exactly  at  what  earlier  date)  the  President  also  had  accepted 
them  in  substance  and  had  included  a  slightly  reduced  figure  of  1 3 1 ,000 
planes  as  the  principal  item  in  a  "must"  program  of  war  production 
for  1943.^^ 

To  this  point,  estimates  had  been  based  largely  on  strategic  consid- 
erations. Now  it  became  necessary  to  review  the  aircraft  production 
program  in  the  light  of  available  resources.  Productive  capacity  and 
the  logistical  factors  depending  on  it  placed  a  strict  limit  on  the  extent 
to  which  any  strategic  plan  could  be  put  into  effect,  and  the  aircraft 
program  was  no  exception.  Donald  M.  Nelson,  chairman  of  the  War 

*  See  above,  pp.  221-24. 
290 


THE   CASABLANCA  DIRECTIVE 


Production  Board,  had  already  called  to  the  attention  of  Secretaries 
Stimson  and  Knox  the  fact  that  the  production  objectives  for  1943 
were  considerably  out  of  line  with  the  productive  capacity  of  the 
country.  This  point  of  view  he  presented  to  the  JCS  on  15  October 
1942.  Against  U.S.  capacity  for  producing  munitions,  facilities,  and 
war  construction  during  1943,  set  in  terms  of  dollars  at  roughly  75  bil- 
lions, he  placed  the  total  military  requirements  for  that  year,  which 
amounted  to  92.9  billions.  A  substantial  part  of  this  military  program 
had,  however,  been  set  by  the  President  as  an  essential  objective.  The 
President's  "must"  items,  comprising  the  aircraft  program  of  131,000 
planes  (37  billions),  the  merchant-ship  building  program  (3.6  billions), 
the  program  for  building  minor  combat  vessels  of  the  antisubmarine 
type  (4  billions),  production  in  fulfilment  of  the  U.S.S.R.  protocol 
(2.6  billions),  and  materials  plants  (1.5  billions),  constituted  over  half 
of  the  total  planned  production.  Consequently,  while  other  items  would 
almost  certainly  be  delayed  until  1944  for  completion  under  such  cir- 
cumstances, the  "must"  objectives  might  also  be  unattainable  unless 
revised.®^ 

The  JCS  therefore  agreed  to  propose  a  general  reduction  in  1943  re- 
quirements. The  aircraft  program,  being  by  far  the  largest  single  item, 
became  the  crux  of  the  entire  discussion.  General  Marshall  on  20  Octo- 
ber expressed  his  concern  that  a  decision  regarding  aircraft  should  be 
obtained  immediately  from  the  President.  He  pointed  out  that  each 
day  of  delay  would  result  in  an  appreciable  loss  of  plane  production. 
Accordingly  he  proposed  that  the  1943  aircraft  program  be  reduced 
from  131,000  to  107,000  planes,  of  which  82,000  would  be  of  combat 
type.  He  also  was  prepared  to  make  even  more  significant  reductions  in 
such  Army  ground  equipment  as  tanks,  antiaircraft  guns,  and  armored 
cars.  Admiral  King  was  advised  that  Marshall's  proposal  would  not 
interfere  with  the  proposed  naval  building  program  in  any  way.®^ 

Acting  on  the  advice  of  his  chiefs  of  staff.  President  Roosevelt  on 
29  October  instructed  Nelson  that  the  107,000-plane  objective  "will 
be  given  highest  priority  and  whatever  preference  is  needed  to  insure 
its  accomplishment."  He  indicated  that  the  "Army,  the  Navy  and  other 
governmental  agencies  are  to  cooperate  to  the  fullest  in  the  furtherance 
of  this  program,"  adding  that  it  was  "really  essential  that  in  one  way  or 
another  this  program  be  carried  out  in  toto."®^ 

On  the  face  of  it,  this  directive  would  seem  to  have  settled  both  the 
issue  of  air  requirements  and  that  of  priority  and  preferential  treatment 

291 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES  IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


in  production.  It  did  settle  the  question  of  requirements  to  all  intents 
and  purposes.  The  revised  1943  military  program,  as  approved  by  the 
JCS  on  26  November  1942,  reduced  the  total  dollar  value  from  92.9 
billions  to  80.15  billions— which  was  believed  to  be  an  objective  within 
the  productive  capacity  of  the  nation.  In  this  revised  estimate,  provision 
was  made  for  108,792  aircraft,  representing  a  reduction  of  3.73  billions 
from  the  figure  originally  quoted.  Although  other  items  of  the  Presi- 
dent's "must"  list  did  not  suffer  appreciable  reduction  and  the  Mari- 
time program  was  actually  increased  by  25  per  cent,  those  programs  not 
underlined  by  the  Chief  Executive  were  drastically  cut.  This  was 
especially  true  of  the  Army  ground  program  and  that  part  of  the  Navy 
building  program  not  specifically  given  preference  by  the  President.®* 

But  the  battle  for  priority,  the  competition  for  preferential  treatment 
in  allocation  of  critical  materials,  had  only  begun.  AWPD-42  had 
warned  that  the  aircraft  production  objective  for  1943,  upon  which  the 
success  particularly  of  the  bomber  offensive  depended,  could  be  met 
only  if  it  were  given  priority  over  all  other  programs.  That  recom- 
mendation had  been  made  in  the  light  of  1942  experience.  Since  early 
in  that  year,  aircraft  production  had  been  assigned  to  Priority  AA-i, 
but  it  had  been  forced  always  to  share  that  category  with  substantial 
parts  of  the  other  major  war  programs.®^  Plane  production  had  conse- 
quently been  disappointing.^^  To  avoid  a  similar  result  in  1943,  it  was 
necessary  to  arrange  a  priority  system  which  would  be  more  selective 
than  any  then  in  force.  Above  all,  first  priority  must  not  be  overloaded 
to  an  extent  which  would  make  the  accomplishment  of  any  top  prior- 
ity item  a  doubtful,  perhaps  an  impossible,  task.®'' 

General  Arnold  therefore  set  out,  as  a  matter  of  the  utmost  urgency, 
to  secure  a  frankly  overriding  priority  for  aircraft  production.^®  In  that 
effort  he  received  the  hearty  support  of  Lt.  Gen.  Brehon  B.  Somervell, 
who,  as  commanding  general  of  the  Services  of  Supply,  was  in  a  unique 
position  to  give  practical  counsel.**  The  Army  planners  as  a  body 
favored  a  revision  of  existing  priorities  which  would  place  the  aircraft 
program  alone  in  the  top  bracket.  They  pointed  out  that  a  directive 
along  such  lines  would  not  necessarily  establish  a  fixed  priority  but 
would  simply  indicate  where  the  primary  emphasis  should  be  placed. 
They  appreciated  the  fact  that  certain  other  programs,  listed  by  the 
President  as  "must"  items  for  1943,  would  be  essential  to  the  success  of 
the  air  war  as  well  as  to  that  of  the  war  in  general.  The  authors  of 
AWPD-42  had  foreseen  that  vast  quantities  of  shipping  would  be 

292 


THE    CASABLANCA  DIRECTIVE 

needed  to  transport  the  air  forces  and  to  supply  them.  And,  with  Ger- 
man submarines  undertaking  a  major  strategic  offensive  operation  in 
the  Atlantic,  it  was  evident  that  as  large  a  force  of  escort  and  antisub- 
marine vessels  as  possible  would  have  to  be  employed  to  insure  the  safe 
passage  of  personnel,  equipment,  and  supplies.  The  priority  proposed 
by  the  Army,  in  other  words,  was  intended  to  build  a  balanced  produc- 
tion program  around  aircraft  as  the  most  critical  single  item.*^^ 

The  Navy  flatly  disagreed.  '^^  It  had  contemplated  the  aircraft  pro- 
gram as  outlined  in  AWPD-42  with  unconcealed  disfavor  and  had 
accepted  the  revised  estimate  apparently  as  the  lesser  of  the  proposed 
evils.  According  to  Admiral  King,  he  had  given  his  approval  only  on 
the  assurance  that  aircraft  would  not  interfere  with  the  Navy  and  Mari- 
time projects  which  he  believed  essential  to  a  balanced  program  of 
production."^^  So  the  Navy  submitted  a  counterproposal  which  placed 
in  first  priority  not  only  aircraft  but  all  aircraft  carriers,  auxiliary  car- 
riers, and  cruisers  then  scheduled  for  completion  in  1943  and  the  first 
quarter  of  1944,  submarines  due  to  be  completed  prior  to  3 1  December 
1943,  such  landing  craft  as  must  be  completed  to  clear  the  building 
facilities  for  escort  vessels,  and  finally  the  maximum  number  of  tank- 
ers and  escort  vessels— in  short,  a  major  portion  of  the  Navy  and 
Maritime  programs.*^^  Navy  spokesmen  urged  that  these  items,  espe- 
cially aircraft  carriers  and  escort  vessels,  were  not  only  necessary  to  sup- 
ply the  overseas  air  forces  (as  the  AAF  was  perfectly  ready  to  admit) 
but  were  actually  of  greater  importance  to  the  war  effort  than  the 
grand  total  of  aircraft.'^* 

Be  that  as  it  may,  the  Navy's  counterproposal  would  have  had  the 
effect  of  once  more  overloading  first  priority.  General  Arnold  agreed 
to  place  critical  items  in  the  air,  ground,  naval  and  maritime  programs 
in  a  parallel  position  under  an  AA-i  category  on  the  advice  of  produc- 
tion experts  who  claimed  that  there  would  be  no  consequent  interfer- 
ence with  the  production  of  the  required  aircraft  for  1943.  It  soon  de- 
veloped, however,  that  such  an  arrangement  would  not  only  interfere 
with  aircraft  production  but  would  make  the  1943  objective,  on 
which  the  President  had  insisted,  impossible  to  attain."^^  Rather  than  ac- 
cord the  necessary  preferential  treatment  to  aircraft.  Admiral  King  ad- 
vocated that  the  President  be  asked  to  withdraw  his  "must"  program, 
and  that  he  be  guided  entirely  by  priorities  established  by  the  ]CSJ^  A 
compromise  of  sorts  was  reached  on  26  November  1942  by  which  the 
President  approved  a  No.  i  Group  of  critical  items,  including  the 

293 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES  IN   WORLD  WAR  II 


107,000-aircraft  program,  Army  munitions  requirements  for  the  fol- 
lowing six  months,  and  substantial  portions  of  the  Navy  and  Maritime 
shipbuilding  program.  Although  differing  only  slightly  from  the  prior- 
ity list  against  which  General  Arnold  had  registered  his  objection,  the 
No.  I  Group  received  his  approval.  It  is  probable  that  by  indorsing  this 
paper,  Arnold  hoped  on  the  one  hand  to  avoid  the  delay  and  misunder- 
standing of  protracted  debate  and  on  the  other  to  secure  a  directive 
which,  if  not  strictly  satisfactory,  was  nevertheless  broad  and  flexible 
and  which  would  therefore  permit  a  good  deal  of  informal  adjustment 
in  putting  it  into  effect."^^ 

Nelson  was  asked  at  the  same  time  to  state  whether  or  not  this  No. 
I  Group  could  be  accomplished.  In  his  reply,  dated  3  December  1942, 
he  pointed  out  certain  factors  which  seriously  complicated  the  problem 
of  producing  all  essential  equipment  on  schedule.  On  the  face  of  it,  he 
wrote,  it  would  seem  quite  feasible  to  produce  in  1943  the  No.  i 
Group,  estimated  at  50  billions  of  dollars,  for  the  total  productive 
capacity  of  the  nation  amounted  to  more  than  75  billions.  But  the  limit- 
ing factor  was  not  over-all  productive  capacity  but  certain  critical 
machine  tools  and  component  parts.  In  addition,  high  priority  had  been 
accorded  to  such  other  projects  as  synthetic  rubber,  high-octane  gaso- 
line, and  aluminum  and  alloy  steel,  all  of  which  were  in  varying  degrees 
required  for  the  completion  of  the  No.  i  Group  items.  It  would  be 
possible,  he  concluded,  to  produce  the  required  aircraft  by  juggling  the 
production  of  machine  tools,  but  it  would  not  be  possible  to  complete 
all  the  No,  i  Group  in  1943;  nor  could  the  aircraft  program  be  com- 
pleted if  placed  on  a  preferential  basis  equal  to  that  of  several  other 
large  segments  of  the  1943  war  production.'^® 

Thus  the  prospect  for  1943  plane  production  continued  to  look  un- 
certain. Many  programs— the  No,  i  Group,  the  rubber,  high-octane 
gasoline,  aluminum  and  alloy  steel  program,  the  Russian  protocol  and 
other  export  programs,  and  finally  civilian  supply  and  maintenance- 
all  had  a  legitimate  claim  to  the  highest  priority,  and  all  had  been  given 
a  "must"  rating  at  one  time  or  another  by  the  government.  It  was,  by 
the  end  of  the  year,  evident  that  all  could  be  accomplished  concur- 
rently in  1943,  completed  on  schedule.  It  was  further  clear 
that  some  could  be  completed  on  schedule  if  given  preferential  treat- 
ment over  all  others.  Both  General  Somervell  and  Vice  Adm.  F.  J. 
Home,  who  had  been  engaged  in  surveying  the  problem,  advised  that 
aircraft  could  be  given  preference  with  less  detriment  to  the  rest  of  the 
294 


THE   CASABLANCA  DIRECTIVE 

critical  programs  than  if  preference  were  given  to  any  other  single  item. 
On  the  other  hand,  it  appeared  that  the  synthetic  rubber  and  high- 
octane  gasoline  projects  could  only  be  accomplished  at  crippling  ex- 
pense to  the  rest.*^® 

Lack  of  overriding  priorities,  especially  in  the  use  of  critical  materials, 
continued  through  the  following  months  to  handicap  the  aircraft 
production  program.  During  January  and  February  1943,  that  pro- 
gram was  reported  to  be  17  per  cent  behind  schedule.  And  it  was  appar- 
ent that  the  1943  objective  would  probably  not  be  fully  attained.^^  But 
the  situation  was  not  actually  so  serious  as  the  welter  of  conflicting  pro- 
grams and  priorities  would  seem  on  paper  to  make  it.  During  the  latter 
part  of  1942  and  early  1943,  while  the  JCS  were  engaged  in  the  futile 
and  not  very  logical  effort  to  establish  which  of  a  number  of  essential 
projects  was  most  essential  and  to  decide  which  of  the  President's 
"must"  programs  could  in  fact  be  accomplished,  production  was  pro- 
ceeding with  no  clear  priority  directive  at  all,  except  that  aircraft  were 
being  given  as  far  as  possible  an  overriding  priority  in  accordance  with 
the  President's  directive  of  29  October.  In  view  of  the  favorable  atti- 
tude taken  toward  the  aircraft  program  by  Nelson  and  the  War  Pro- 
duction Board,  the  AAF  was  willing  to  accept  an  informal  preference 
in  lieu  of  anything  more  satisfactory  legally  and  to  refrain  prudently 
from  raising  the  issue  unnecessarily.  By  late  April  1943,  Robert  A. 
Lovett,  Assistant  Secretary  of  War  for  Air,  would  be  able  to  report  in 
a  letter  to  Air  Chief  Marshal  Sir  Arthur  Harris  that  production  was 
"coming  along  in  grand  shape. 

The  Case  for  Bombardment 

The  burden  of  proof  in  any  discussion  involving  air  strategy  or  air- 
craft production  rested  on  the  exponents  of  air  power.  This  was  par- 
ticularly true  of  the  American  air  strategists,  who  depended  upon  a  yet 
largely  untried  tactical  doctrine  and  who  faced,  in  the  U.S.  Joint  Chiefs 
of  Staff,  a  divided  opinion  regarding  basic  strategy  and  therefore  re- 
garding the  best  use  to  be  made  of  U.S.  air  power.  That  does  not  mean 
that  the  AAF  was  standing  alone.  The  air  program  had  been  evolved 
in  close  cooperation  with  General  Marshall  and  his  planning  staff  and 
in  principle  enjoyed  their  steady  support. 

In  the  final  analysis  there  was  one  way,  and  one  way  only,  to  present 
convincingly  the  case  for  air,  and  that  was  by  direct  reference  to  expe- 
rience. But,  for  the  time  being,  operations  could  not  be  expected  to 

295 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


speak  entirely  for  themselves;  and  considering  the  restricted  scale  of 
current  operations  by  the  Eighth  Air  Force,  it  was  necessary  to  present 
the  case  for  AAF  daylight  bombing  to  the  best  possible  advantage  not 
only  to  U.S.  war  agencies  but  to  the  British  as  well.  Headquarters, 
AAF,  fully  appreciated  the  critical  character  of  the  experiment  being 
carried  on  by  the  Eighth  Air  Force,  and  its  commanders  shared  this 
awareness.  General  Eaker  referred  feelingly  to  the  missionary  work 
being  done  by  what  he  later  called  his  "piddling  little  force  of  For- 
tresses." It  might,  he  said,  "affect  the  whole  future  of  day  bombard- 
ment in  this  war."^^  Accordingly,  pertinent  information  on  every  mis- 
sion that  could  be  interpreted  without  falsification  of  fact  as  an  air  vic- 
tory, or  as  a  demonstration  of  the  AAF  doctrine  of  strategic  bombard- 
ment, was  at  once  relayed  to  Washington  and  there  seized  up- 
on eagerly. 

The  initial  operations  of  the  VIII  Bomber  Command  in  August  had 
come  at  an  extremely  opportune  moment.  American  ideas  of  bombing 
and  the  American  bombers  themselves  were  being  subjected  to  an  in- 
creasing amount  of  skeptical  attention.  General  Arnold  was  about  to 
begin  his  fight  in  the  JCS  to  prevent  the  diversion  of  air  units  to  the 
Pacific,  and  AAF  planners  were  in  the  process  of  estimating  the  air  re- 
quirements for  1943  preparatory  to  issuing  AWPD-42.  On  each  ac- 
count the  VIII  Bomber  Command  provided  evidence  of  the  utmost  sig- 
nificance. The  Lille  attack  of  9  October  proved  similarly  useful.  No 
sooner  had  the  news  reached  Washington  than  a  memo  was  prepared  in 
AAF  Headquarters  for  Harry  Hopkins  in  which  it  was  argued  that  the 
Lille  mission  "provides  further  proof  of  the  soundness  of  the  basic  con- 
cept of  AWPD-42,  i.e.,  the  effectiveness  of  properly  exercised  air 
power  in  destroying  the  ability  of  our  enemy  to  wage  war,  and  empha- 
sizes the  importance  of  maintaining  to  the  full  extent  possible  the  vital 
air  offensive  against  Germany."®*  This  memo  was  forwarded  to  the 
White  House  in  advance  of  the  President's  action  that  same  month  in 
favor  of  an  overriding  priority  for  the  production  of  aircraft  accord- 
ing to  a  program  built  solidly  around  the  heavy  bomber  and  in  the 
spirit  of  AWPD-42. 

It  was  not  enough  simply  to  welcome  the  dispatches  which  as  a  mat- 
ter of  routine  brought  useful  news  to  headquarters.  It  was  necessary  to 
see  that  information  flowed  copiously  and  in  the  most  useful  form  from 
the  theater  to  Washington.  In  November,  General  Arnold  sent  to  Gen- 
eral Eaker  an  officer  especially  qualified  for  the  task  of  "writing  up  and 
296 


THE   CASABLANCA  DIRECTIVE 

presenting  to  the  American  people  the  true  potentialities  of  air  power 
which  are  factually  supported  by  operations  in  your  theater."  '*We 
must,"  Arnold  wrote,  "fully  inform  this  country  of  the  success  that  we 
have  had  with  them  [the  heavy  bombers]  to  date  and  point  out  for- 
cibly that  through  their  use  from  Europe  in  ever  increasing  numbers 
we  can  crush  Germany's  capacity  to  wage  war  at  its  source."^* 

It  soon  became  apparent  that  some  agency  in  AAF  Headquarters 
should  be  made  specifically  responsible  for  digesting  data  regarding 
bombardment  and  preparing  it  suitably  for  presentation  to  the  Presi- 
dent, the  JCS  and  CCS,  the  Office  of  Chief  of  Naval  Operations,  and 
interested  members  of  Congress.  On  25  November,  the  Directorate  of 
Bombardment  was  ordered  to  establish  the  required  agency,  and  cer- 
tain specifications  were  laid  down  for  its  operation:  *'Data  must  be 
factual.  Any  resemblance  to  propaganda  will  defeat  our  purpose.  The 
presentation  must  be  such  as  will  stir  the  imagination  of  the  listener.  It 
is  necessary,  therefore,  that  the  data  be  prepared  by  persons  with  imagi- 
nation, who  have  been  trained  in  selling  new  ideas."^® 

In  presenting  the  case  for  bombardment,  which  of  course  meant  at 
this  juncture  the  strategic  bombing  of  Germany,  the  AAF  received 
powerful  support  from  the  British,  whose  opinion,  by  virtue  of  their 
long  experience  both  in  receiving  and  delivering  bombs,  carried  much 
weight.  A  paper  prepared  by  Trenchard,  Marshal  of  the  RAF,  argu- 
ing that  air  power  must  be  applied  independently  in  strategic  bombing 
and  not  entangled  with  land  campaigns  undertaken  in  accordance  with 
outmoded  military  doctrines,  was  widely  circulated  in  the  War  De- 
partment and  apparently  had  a  good  deal  of  influence  on  American 
strategic  thinking. On  13  October  1942,  Air  Cdre.  S.  C.  Strafford 
wrote  to  Brig.  Gen.  O.  A.  Anderson,  AC/AS,  Plans,  regarding  the 
problem  of  preserving  for  the  heavy  bomber  "its  proper  and  vital  place 
in  the  new  air  program,"  and  inclosed  certain  documents  embodying 
British  doctrine  on  the  subject  which  he  hoped  would  be  of  some  use 
in  that  direction.^*^  Somewhat  later,  in  November,  Air  Vice  Marshal 
John  C.  Slessor  brought  a  memo  prepared  by  the  British  chiefs  of  staff 
to  the  United  States  for  discussion  with  the  JCS.  This  document,  re- 
flecting much  of  Lord  Trenchard's  ideas  on  air  power  and  urging  the 
creation  of  a  great  Anglo- American  force  of  4,000  to  6,000  bombers  by 
April  1944  as  a  matter  of  the  highest  priority  compatible  with  other 
essential  projects,  made  a  most  favorable  impression  on  Lovett.  It  was 
forwarded  to  Secretary  Stimson  on  15  November  after  having  been 

297 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


withdrawn  from  the  JCS  agenda  because  of  Admiral  King's  protest 
that,  since  it  had  not  been  approved  by  the  British  Imperial  War  Coun- 
cil, it  could  not  be  considered  official.®^ 

The  AAF  also  drew  independently  on  British  experience.  On  i  No- 
vember 1 94 1,  General  Arnold  had  sent  a  board  of  AAF  experts  to 
England  to  study  the  effectiveness  of  German  bombing,  and  it  was 
their  impression,  supported  by  British  opinion,  that,  had  the  enemy 
practiced  systematic  strategic  bombardment  as  the  British  and  Ameri- 
can air  strategists  understood  it  and  had  they  concentrated  at  an  earlier 
date  on  vital  objectives  and  followed  up  their  attacks  to  a  decisive  con- 
clusion, the  results  would  have  been  fatal  to  the  British  war  effort.  At- 
tention was  further  called  in  the  fall  of  1942  to  the  devastating  effect  of 
RAF  area  bombing.  The  1,000-plane  raid  on  Cologne  of  30/31  May 
was  believed ,  for  example,  to  have  destroyed  approximately  1 2  per  cent 
of  the  city's  main  industrial  and  residential  areas.®^ 

However,  certain  difficulties  arose.  The  AAF  was  ready  enough  to 
cite  the  effectiveness  of  British  area  bombing  when  it  was  a  question  of 
demonstrating  the  place  of  a  combined  bomber  offensive  in  the  total 
strategic  picture.  The  British  effort  had  from  the  beginning  been  taken 
for  granted  as  an  essential  part  of  a  24-hour-a-day  bombing  program 
calculated  to  bring  continuous  pressure  to  bear  on  the  enemy.  But  there 
was  the  initial  problem  of  demonstrating  that  the  American  bombing 
force  was  capable  of  supplying  the  daylight  raids  which  were  to  con- 
stitute the  other  half  of  the  combined  offensive.  It  was,  in  other  words, 
often  easier  to  present  the  case  for  strategic  bombardment  in  general 
than  that  of  daylight  precision  bombing  to  which  the  AAF  was  com- 
mitted more  as  a  matter  of  faith  than  of  knowledge  empirically  arrived 
at.  The  British  had  been  carrying  on  a  manifestly  effective  campaign  of 
area  bombardment  according  to  more  or  less  thoroughly  demonstrated 
principles,  and  there  was  always  a  presumption  in  the  minds  of  disin- 
terested observers  in  favor  of  the  American  bombing  force  contribut- 
ing to  this  established  campaign  rather  than  pioneering  in  unproved 
methods.  More  than  that,  precision  bombing  had  been  specifically  and 
sharply  questioned  in  the  late  summer  of  1942  by  the  British  press  and 
by  the  U.S.  Navy.  Consequently  a  good  deal  of  special  pleading  was 
done  in  behalf  of  precision  techniques,  and  comparisons  were  some- 
times drawn  to  the  disadvantage  of  the  British  doctrine. 

For  example,  when  the  news  of  the  first  bombing  mission  of  the 
Eighth  Air  Force  arrived  in  Washington,  the  chief  of  Air  Staff  ordered 

298 


THE   CASABLANCA  DIRECTIVE 


a  memo  prepared  for  General  Arnold's  signature  to  General  Marshall, 
for  the  attention  of  Admirals  King  and  Leahy.  The  attack  on  Rouen, 
the  resulting  paper  declared,  "again  verifies  the  soundness  of  our  policy 
of  the  precision  bombing  of  strategic  objectives  rather  than  mass 
(blitz)  bombing  of  large,  city  size  areas.  The  Army  Air  Forces  early 
recognized  that  the  effective  use  of  air  power  on  a  ivorld  v)tde  basis 
[underscoring  in  original]  required  the  ability  to  hit  small  targets  from 
high  altitudes."  It  was  not  a  doctrine,  the  memo  continued,  adopted 
capriciously.  The  war  experience  of  all  nations  had  been  carefully 
studied,  the  difficulties  in  accomplishing  precision  bombing  had  been 
determined,  and  U.S.  training,  materiel,  and  tactics  had  been  modified 
accordingly.^^ 

This  and  similar  statements  were  meant  strictly  for  home  consump- 
tion. Likewise  for  staff  use  only  were  a  series  of  special  studies,  dated 
19  October,  prepared  under  the  director  of  intelligence  service  at 
Headquarters,  AAF,  which  undertook  to  analyze  the  British  area 
bombing  at  Rostock,  Cologne,  and  Osnabriick.  The  general  conclu- 
sion reached  was  that  bombing  of  this  sort,  while  effective  enough  in 
producing  general  damage,  was  an  unreliable  and  costly  way  of  para- 
lyzing the  enemy's  war  machine  and  that,  in  comparison,  precision 
bombing  of  a  specific  phase  of  the  enemy's  war  economy  according  to 
a  definite  but  flexible  strategic  plan  afforded  the  most  economical  means 
of  effecting  a  decisive  concentration  of  bombardment  effort.®^ 

Apparently  through  no  fault  of  the  Air  Staff,  these  studies  finally 
reached  the  RAF  with  results  described  by  General  Eaker  on  6  Decem- 
ber as  "most  unfortunate."  Eaker,  in  fact,  considered  them  an  unfair 
statement  of  the  British  effort,  based  as  they  were  on  inadequate  infor- 
mation.^^ Although  constantly  interested  in  presenting  a  favorable 
case  for  precision  methods,  AAF  Headquarters  and  American  air  com- 
manders  in  the  ETO  were  alike  worried  over  the  tendency  of  Ameri- 
can observers,  both  civilian  and  military,  to  depreciate  the  British 
effort.  They  clearly  understood  that  good  Anglo-American  relations 
were  essential  to  the  combined  bombardment  program,  as  well  as  to 
any  other  combined  enterprise.®^ 

At  the  same  time,  one  of  the  most  difficult  tasks  they  faced  was  to 
sell  daylight  precision  bombing  to  the  British.  British  opinion  had  origi- 
nally been  deeply  skeptical  of  the  American  doctrine,  and,  although 
British  official  sanction  was  given  tentatively  to  the  day  bombardment 
program  and  the  operational  record  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force  had  been 

299 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


a  revelation  to  most  observers  in  England,  opinion  in  the  United  King- 
dom remained  throughout  the  rest  of  1942  in  some  doubt  regarding  the 
relative  effectiveness  of  the  American  bombing.  Indeed,  when  the  day- 
light operations  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force  during  the  fall  became  seri- 
ously handicapped  by  the  weather  and  when  improved  German  fighter 
tactics  and  antiaircraft  fire  took  increasing  toll  of  the  U.S.  bombers,  the 
question  was  asked  with  increasing  insistence  whether  the  VIII  Bomber 
Command  should  not  resort  to  area  bombing  by  night  and  give  up  the 
vexing  attempt  to  bomb  pinpoint  targets.^^ 

This  was  but  one  of  several  fundamental  questions  pertaining  to  the 
bomber  offensive  confronted  by  the  Casablanca  conference  when  it 
met  in  the  middle  of  January  1943.  It  had  to  define  the  place  of  that 
offensive  in  basic  strategic  plans,  it  had  to  clarify  the  mission  of  the 
bombing  force,  especially  that  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force,  and  it  had  to 
establish  a  formal  system  of  control  for  the  combined  bombing 
operation. 

The  strategic  decisions  made  at  Casablanca  reaffirmed  the  plans  on 
the  basis  of  which  a  combined  bomber  offensive  had  originally  been 
conceived.  First  priority  was  given  unequivocally  to  the  war  against 
the  European  Axis.  To  defeat  Germany,  it  would  be  necessary  to  in- 
vade the  continent  of  Europe  in  force.  But  Europe  had  still  to  be  con- 
sidered as  a  fortress  which  must  be  subjected  to  vigorous  bombardment 
before  the  final  assault  would  be  practicable.  Hence  the  combined 
bomber  offensive  remained  a  prerequisite  to  any  major  land  operation 
against  Germany.^® 

The  planned  invasion  of  the  continent  was  postponed  in  favor  of 
further  amphibious  and  land  operations  in  the  Mediterranean  area.* 
Specifically,  it  was  decided  to  take  Sicily  (Operation  HUSKY)  as  a 
means  of  securing  the  Mediterranean  lines  of  communication,  of  di- 
verting German  pressure  from  the  Russian  front,  and  of  intensifying 
pressure  on  Italy.®®  Tentative  agreement  on  this  strategy  was  reached 
only  after  much  debate.  The  U.S.  JCS  had  consistently  opposed  Medi- 
terranean ''operations  subsequent  to  TORCH"  as  merely  another  step 
in  an  indecisive  and  costly  encircling  action,  and  had  demanded  that 
Allied  forces,  both  air  and  surface,  be  concentrated  for  a  decisive  push 
in  western  Europe  against  the  heart  of  Germany.  The  British  chiefs  of 
staff,  on  the  contrary,  while  insisting  on  the  maximum  application  of 
Allied  strategic  air  power  against  Germany  proper,  preferred  to  post- 

*  See  above,  pp.  113- 14. 
300 


THE    CASABLANCA  DIRECTIVE 


pone  cross-Channel  operations  in  favor  of  an  offensive  in  the  Mediter- 
ranean in  the  hope  of  seriously  dispersing  German  strength.  Certain 
logistical  factors  favored  the  British  policy.  Chief  of  these  was  the 
fact  that  the  Allies  already  had  large  forces  in  North  Africa  ready  for 
further  operations  in  the  Mediterranean  once  TORCH  had  been  com- 
pleted, and  it  would  greatly  ease  the  critical  shipping  problem  if  those 
forces  could  be  utilized  without  having  to  be  transported  to  the  United 
Kingdom.  The  American  delegation  appreciated  this  economy  of  ton- 
nage and  admitted  the  additional  advantages  offered  by  a  success- 
ful HUSKY.^^ 

The  AAF  had  consistently  supported  the  views  advanced  by  the 
American  Joint  Chiefs  at  Casablanca.  Yet,  in  a  very  real  sense  the  de- 
cision in  favor  of  HUSKY,  by  allowing  more  time  for  the  systematic 
application  of  strategic  air  power,  enhanced  the  position  of  the  bomber 
offensive  as  an  independent  operation.  It  would  be  possible,  as  the  British 
pointed  out,  to  concentrate  a  larger  force  of  heavy  bombers  in  the 
United  Kingdom  than  if  an  early  invasion  of  the  continent  were  con- 
templated.®^ There  would  be  less  immediate  need  for  the  build-up  of 
ground  support  forces,  a  build-up  that  could  have  been  accomplished 
on  the  scale  required  for  a  continental  invasion  only  at  some  expense  of 
heavy  bombardment.  It  should  be  noted  too  that  the  decision  to  post- 
pone the  invasion  placed  it  at  a  time  more  nearly  corresponding  to  the 
schedule  set  in  AWPD-42.  If  there  was  general  disappointment  among 
the  Americans  over  the  decision  in  favor  of  the  Mediterranean  strategy, 
there  was  for  the  AAF  cause  for  gratification  in  the  simultaneous  de- 
cision to  mount  the  "heaviest  possible  bomber  offensive  against  the 
German  war  effort."* 

There  was  more  at  stake  for  the  AAF,  however,  than  questions  of 
strategy.  Doubt  continued  to  exist  regarding  the  capabilities  and  tactics 
of  the  American  bombing  force,  and,  apparently  under  the  leadership 
of  the  Prime  Minister,  pressure  was  brought  to  bear  to  have  the  heavy 
bombers  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force  join  the  RAF  in  its  night  bombing 
campaign.  General  Arnold,  facing  the  necessity  of  presenting  the  case 
for  daylight  bombardment  in  some  detail,  summoned  General  Eaker, 
whose  experiences  gave  him  special  qualifications,  to  defend  the  U.S. 
doctrine.®^ 

Eaker  began  his  defense  of  the  American  tactics  by  maintaining  that 
only  one  convincing  argument  had  ever  been  advanced  for  night 

*  See  again,  pp.  209-1 1,  277-78. 

301 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES  IN   WORLD  WAR  II 


bombing  over  day  bombing  and  that  was  that  it  was  safer.  But  in  point 
of  fact  the  Eighth  Air  Force  rate  of  loss  in  day  raids  had  been  lower 
than  that  of  the  RAF  on  its  night  operations,  a  fact  that  was  explained 
in  part  by  the  great  improvement  in  German  night  fighter  tactics  and 
in  part  by  the  heavy  firepower  of  the  American  bombers.  If  the  day 
bombers  were  made  to  operate  by  night  their  losses,  as  a  result  of  both 
enemy  action  and  operational  hazards,  would  increase  materially,  for 
they  were  neither  equipped  nor  trained  for  that  sort  of  work.  To  equip 
and  train  them  would  cause  untold  delay.  Of  even  greater  importance 
was  the  fact  that  day  bombing,  regardless  of  the  question  of  safety, 
could  do  things  that  night  bombing  could  not.  The  day  bombers  could 
hit  small,  important  targets  such  as  individual  factories  which  could 
not  be  found,  seen,  or  hit  at  night.  Their  accuracy  in  such  attacks  Eaker 
estimated  at  about  five  times  that  of  the  best  night  bombing,  thanks  to 
the  excellent  bombsight  they  carried.  Hence  day  bombing  tended  to 
be  more  economical  than  night  bombing,  for  a  force  only  one-fifth  as 
large  would  be  required  to  destroy  a  given  installation.  Eaker  of  course 
admitted  that  the  objective  of  night  bombardment  was  not  primarily 
the  destruction  of  individual  targets  but  the  devastation  of  vital  areas, 
and  as  such  it  could  not  properly  be  compared  to  precision  bombing  on 
the  ground  of  accuracy.  But  that  introduced  another  point  of  the  great- 
est significance:  day  bombing  and  night  bombing  were  ideally  calcu- 
lated to  supplement  each  other.  By  employing  both  it  would  be  possible 
to  bring  continuous,  24-hour  pressure  to  bear  on  the  enemy,  thus  pre- 
venting his  defenses  from  relaxing.  It  would  also  be  possible,  in  many 
cases,  for  the  AAF  to  locate  difficult  targets  and  mark  them  by  the  fires 
resulting  from  their  preliminary  bombing,  and  so  make  it  feasible  for 
the  RAF  to  complete  the  job  at  night.  Furthermore,  the  day  bombing 
program  reduced  airdrome,  air  space,  and  communications  congestion 
in  the  United  Kingdom,  where  space  was  at  a  premium.  Finally,  day 
bombing  would  permit  the  destruction  of  German  day  fighters.  It  was, 
Eaker  felt,  the  most  economical  method  of  reducing  German  air 
strength  because  the  enemy  would  have  to  send  up  his  fighter  planes  to 
protect  vital  objectives  even  when  he  would  not  commit  them  to  battle 
with  Allied  fighter  forces. 

Eaker's  presentation  of  the  case  for  daylight  bombardment  was  fol- 
lowed by  many  questions.  Why  had  there  been  so  many  abortive 
sorties?  Why  had  there  been  so  few  missions?  Why  should  the  U.S. 
bombers  and  those  of  the  RAF  not  be  given  the  same  directive  and  the 

302 


THE   CASABLANCA  DIRECTIVE 


same  targets?  Why  had  U.S.  bombers  not  bombed  Germany?  In  an- 
swer, he  described  the  factors  that  hitherto  had  limited  the  activity  of 
his  bombers:  the  relative  inexperience  of  the  crews;  the  requirements 
of  TORCH  which  had  seriously  bled  the  Eighth  Air  Force  and  which 
had  diverted  the  efforts  of  much  of  the  force  remaining,  especially  of 
the  service  units;  the  weather  during  the  fall  and  winter  months  which 
had  both  limited  the  number  of  missions  and  increased  the  incidence  of 
abortive  sorties;  the  current  strategic  directive  which,  by  limiting  the 
bombers  to  submarine  bases  and  related  targets  in  the  occupied  countries, 
reduced  the  choice  of  operating  areas,  thereby  intensifying  the  weather 
problem;  the  lack  of  long-range  fighters  for  escort  into  Germany.  All 
of  these  difficulties  could,  he  claimed,  soon  be  mitigated.  Crew  experi- 
ence would  automatically  increase,  TORCH  should  soon  require  less 
of  Eighth  Air  Force  strength  and  time,  strenuous  efforts  were  being 
made  to  develop  blind-bombing  tactics  to  circumvent  bad  weather, 
long-range  escort  appeared  in  sight,  and  by  enlarging  the  scope  of 
Eighth  Air  Force  bombing  operations  to  include  targets  in  Germany 
proper,  the  CCS  could  do  much  to  relieve  the  American  force  from  a 
strategic  policy  which,  however  necessary,  had  proved  embarrassing 
both  operationally  and  politically .^^^ 

On  this  latter  point,  General  Eaker  went  on  to  say  that  so  far  from 
avoiding  German  targets  he  believed  they  should  in  the  near  future  be 
given  a  high  priority  for  day  bombardment.  Missions  to  Germany,  by 
scattering  enemy  defenses  and  augmenting  the  present  RAF  effort, 
would  contribute  strategically  to  the  success  of  the  air  war.  They  would 
also  contribute  to  the  improvement  of  Eighth  Air  Force  morale  and 
at  the  same  time  would  undermine  that  of  the  German  civilian  popula- 
tion. He  would,  he  claimed,  be  ready  by  i  February  with  a  force  of 
loo  heavy  bombers  and  loo  fighters  to  carry  the  day  bombing  cam- 
paign to  the  enemy  homeland.  If  TORCH  no  longer  needed  the  entire 
strength  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force  in  its  support,  then  it  was  time  another 
directive  were  issued  more  in  line  with  the  strategic  situation  in  north- 
western Europe.  Eaker  insisted  that,  since  TORCH  possessed  its  own 
adequate  air  force,  target  directives  should  be  issued  either  by  the  chief 
of  Air  Staff,  RAF,  or  by  the  CCS,  rather  than  by  the  supreme  com- 
mander of  Operation  TORCH.^^' 

The  chief  testimony  to  the  effectiveness  of  the  above  arguments  lies 
in  the  fact  that  the  day  bombardment  program  was  subjected  to  no 
further  question.  But  its  future  also  depended  to  a  considerable  extent 

303 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN  WORLD  WAR  II 


on  the  system  of  command  under  which  the  day  bombers  were  placed. 

Eaker  tacitly  recognized  that  fact  when  he  advocated  placing  opera- 
tional control— meaning  the  determination  of  over-all  target  priority 
only— in  the  hands  either  of  the  chief  of  Air  Staff,  RAF,  or  of  the  CCS 
themselves.  He  appears  to  have  been  especially  anxious  to  avoid  com- 
plete integration  of  command  over  the  American  and  British  bomber 
forces  such  as  had  been  accomplished  for  the  TORCH  air  forces  by 
Eisenhower.  In  that  event  the  commander  in  chief  of  RAF  Bomber 
Command  would  naturally  be  placed  in  charge  of  the  combined  force, 
and  Eaker  had  reason  to  believe  that  Air  Marshal  Harris  would  prob- 
ably favor  transferring  the  American  bombers  from  day  to  night 
operations.^^^ 

To  insure  for  the  American  commander  full  control  over  the 
methods  employed  by  his  force  thus  came  to  be  the  keynote  of  U.S. 
policy  as  far  as  the  bomber  offensive  was  concerned.  General  Marshall, 
speaking  for  the  U.S.  Joint  Chiefs  suggested  that  the  American 
bombers  in  England  should  be  under  the  operational  direction  of  the 
British,  who  would  prescribe  the  targets  and  the  timing  of  attacks;  but 
he  insisted  that  operational  procedure  and  technique  for  the  American 
force  should  remain  the  prerogative  of  American  commanders.  Gen- 
eral priorities  should  be  prescribed  by  the  CCS.  British  command,  he 
felt,  was  logical  until  such  time  as  the  U.S.  air  forces  outnumbered  the 
British  and  until  they  had  demonstrated  beyond  any  shadow  of  doubt 
the  efficacy  of  their  daylight  bombing  methods,  at  which  time  a  re- 
examination of  command  arrangements  would  be  in  order.  This  point 
of  view  was  accepted  by  the  British  without  apparent  opposition.^^^ 

When  it  came  to  deciding  the  main  objectives  for  the  combined 
offensive,  two  considerations  stood  out  in  bold  relief:  the  submarine 
remained  the  principal  threat  to  Allied  operations  in  the  west,  and  the 
German  Air  Force  would  have  to  be  defeated  before  Germany  could 
be  successfully  invaded  or  even  subjected  to  decisively  effective  stra- 
tegic bombardment.  The  gravity  of  the  submarine  problem  needed  no 
new  proof.  The  figures  on  shipping  losses  incurred  in  the  course  of  this 
transoceanic  war  sufficed  to  make  defeat  of  the  U-boat  unquestionably 
a  "first  charge  on  the  resources  of  the  United  Nations."  And  it  was 
agreed  that  intensified  bombing  of  submarine  operating  bases  and  con- 
struction yards  should  be  carried  out  by  the  combined  bomber  force, 
with  immediate  attention  being  devoted  to  the  Biscay  bases.^^^ 

As  for  the  Luftwaffe,  it  was  currently  believed  to  be  in  a  critical 
state.  The  stamina  of  its  crews  was  reputed  to  be  decreasing,  its  training 
304 


THE    CASABLANCA  DIRECTIVE 


indifferent,  and  its  morale  low.  There  was  supposed  no  longer  to  be 
any  depth  of  reserves  behind  the  first  line  of  fighter  defenses.  Conse- 
quently decisive  action  should  be  taken  at  once  to  reduce  the  GAF 
before  it  had  a  chance  to  recuperate.  It  was  recognized  that  German 
air  power  could  in  effect  be  reduced  by  dispersion,  in  which  case  the 
American  daylight  bombers  could  probably  be  used  more  profitably  to 
harass  the  GAF  from  bases  in  North  Africa  than  to  conduct  strategic 
bombing  operations  from  the  United  Kingdom;  and  in  the  early  days 
of  the  Casablanca  conference  it  was  still  an  open  question  whether  the 
American  force  might  not  better  be  deployed  in  that  direction.  But  the 
GAF  could  also  be  reduced,  and  ultimately  more  effectively,  by  de- 
stroying German  aircraft  production  and  base  facilities  and  by  forcing 
the  enemy  fighters  to  engage  in  a  war  of  attrition  with  heavily  armed 
formations  of  day  bombers.  For  these  operations  the  United  Kingdom 
provided  the  only  suitable  base  available.  It  was  therefore  decided  to 
concentrate  in  the  United  Kingdom  both  the  British  and  the  American 
bombing  forces.^*^*^ 

In  a  sense,  of  course,  U-boats  and  aircraft  constituted  objectives  of 
intermediate  rather  than  of  final  importance.  The  final  objective  re- 
mained the  enemy's  total  war  potential.  American  airmen  were  still 
confidently  of  the  opinion  that,  by  precision  attacks  on  ^'bottleneck"  in- 
dustries, German  production  could  be  paralyzed.  British  bombard- 
ment experts  on  the  other  hand  continued  to  emphasize  enemy 
morale.^^^ 

On  21  January  1943,  the  CCS  issued  CCS  166/ i/D,  usually  referred 
to  as  the  Casablanca  Directive,  for  the  bomber  offensive  from  the 
United  Kingdom.  The  ultimate  objective  of  that  offensive  was  stated 
to  be  "the  progressive  destruction  and  dislocation  of  the  German  mili- 
tary, industrial  and  economic  system,  and  the  undermining  of  the 
morale  of  the  German  people  to  a  point  where  their  capacity  for  armed 
resistance  is  fatally  weakened."  The  primary  objectives  for  the  time 
being  were  listed  in  the  following  order  of  priority:  (i)  German 
submarine  construction  yards,  (2)  the  German  aircraft  industry, 
(3)  transportation,  (4)  oil  plants,  and  (5)  other  targets  in  enemy 
war  industry. 

In  addition  to  these  priority  objectives,  which  were  subject  to  altera- 
tion from  time  to  time  as  the  strategic  situation  developed,  other  targets 
were  mentioned  as  **of  great  importance  either  from  the  political  or 
military"  point  of  view.  First  of  the  examples  mentioned  in  this  con- 
nection were  the  submarine  bases  on  the  Biscay  coast  which  the  Eighth 

305 


THE  ARMY  AIR  FORCES   IN   WORLD  WAR  II 

Air  Force  had  been  attacking  sporadically  for  the  past  three  months. 
The  CCS  had  decided  not  to  include  them  in  the  order  of  priority  be- 
cause that  list  was  meant  to  cover  long-term  operations  only.  The  bases 
were  moreover  not  situated  in  Germany,  and  since  the  American  force 
in  the  past  had  been  severely,  if  unjustly,  criticized  before  British  public 
opinion  for  devoting  so  large  a  portion  of  its  effort  to  objectives  out- 
side Germany  proper,  it  had  been  considered  wise  to  treat  the  Biscay 
bases  in  a  special  category.^^^  Nevertheless,  the  CCS  made  it  perfectly 
clear  that  those  bases  were  still  targets  of  the  highest  strategic  value. 
And,  if  it  were  found  that  the  maximum  pressure  applied  to  them  for 
an  appreciable  time  produced  decisive  results,  the  attacks  should  con- 
tinue whenever  conditions  were  favorable  and  for  as  long  and  as  often 
as  necessary.  Provision  was  also  made  for  bombing  such  essentially 
poUtical  objectives  as  Berlin,  for  attacking,  when  the  time  came,  targets 
in  northern  Italy  in  connection  with  amphibious  operations  in  the 
Mediterranean  theater,  and  for  action  against  any  unforeseen  but  im- 
portant objectives.  When  the  Allied  armies  re-entered  the  European 
continent,  the  combined  bomber  force  would  afford  them  all  possible 
support  in  the  manner  most  effective. 

The  directive  gave  a  specific  place  to  the  day  bomber  force  which, 
it  stated,  should  "take  every  opportunity  to  attack  Germany  by  day,  to 
destroy  objectives  that  are  unsuitable  for  night  attack,  to  sustain  con- 
tinuous pressure  on  German  morale,  to  impose  heavy  losses  on  the 
German  day  fighter  force  and  to  contain  German  fighter  strength 
away  from  the  Russian  and  Mediterranean  theatres  of  war."  In  another 
provision  affecting  primarily  the  American  force,  it  specified  that  in 
attacking  objectives  in  occupied  countries  the  attacking  force  would 
conform  to  "such  instructions  as  may  be  issued  from  time  to  time  for 
political  reasons  by  His  Majesty's  Government  through  the  British 
Chiefs  of  Staff."  This  provision  was  meant  to  answer  a  peculiar  prob- 
lem. Political  considerations,  it  had  been  argued,  often  superseded  mili- 
tary expediency  in  the  case  of  objectives  in  occupied  countries.  The 
British  government  or  representatives  from  one  of  the  exiled  govern- 
ments sometimes  placed  a  political  embargo  on  certain  otherwise  ex- 
cellent military  targets.  In  such  cases  decisions  had  often  to  be  taken 
very  quickly,  and  it  would  not  be  practicable  to  deal  with  the  matter 
through  the  CCS  in  Washington.^^® 

Oddly  enough,  the  Casablanca  directive  made  no  mention  of  the  sys- 
tem of  command  under  which  the  combined  offensive  was  to  be  con- 
ducted. Except  that  it  was  issued  by  the  CCS  "to  the  appropriate  British 

306 


THE   CASABLANCA  DIRECTIVE 

and  United  States  Air  Force  Commanders,  to  govern  the  operation  of 
the  British  and  United  States  Bomber  Commands  in  the  United  King- 
dom," it  leaves  the  reader  quite  in  the  dark  regarding  the  machinery  of 
control  Very  probably  the  omission  was  intentional,  for  CCS  1 66/ i/D 
is  primarily  a  strategic  directive.  But  the  lack  of  any  specific  paper  on 
the  subject  of  command  seems  to  have  caused  some  confusion.  On  2 
February  1943  the  British  Joint  Staff  Mission  proposed  to  the  U.S. 
Joint  Chiefs  that  the  chief  of  the  British  Air  Staff  should  assume  **forth- 
with"  the  responsibility  for  carrying  out  the  combined  bomber  offen- 
sive as  decided  upon  at  Casablanca,  and  that  his  first  act  should  be  to 
issue  to  the  commanding  general  of  the  Eighth  Air  Force  "the  agreed 
directive  (CCS  i66/i/D),"^^®  a  suggestion  which  is  somewhat  surpris- 
ing inasmuch  as  the  paper  in  question  was  already  addressed  to  "the 
appropriate  British  and  United  States  Air  Force  Commanders." 

The  secretary  of  the  JCS  replied  by  referring  to  the  agreement 
reached  in  CCS  65th  meeting,  21  January  1943,  at  Casablanca.  On 
General  Marshall's  motion  it  had  then  been  agreed  that  control  of 
bomber  operations  conducted  by  the  U.S.  air  forces  in  the  United 
Kingdom  would  be  in  the  hands  of  the  British  as  a  "matter  of  command 
rather  than  agreement  with  the  U.S.  Commanders."  It  would,  however, 
"be  the  responsibihty  of  the  U.S.  Commanders  to  decide  the  technique 
and  method  to  be  employed."  A  message  including  this  information 
was  dispatched  on  4  February  to  the  commanding  general  of  U.S. 
forces  in  the  United  Kingdom.  Other  than  that,  no  directive  appears 
to  have  been  issued.^^^  Meanwhile,  of  course,  the  responsibility  for  the 
combined  bombardment  operation  fell  naturally  upon  the  chief  of  the 
British  Air  Staff,  Sir  Charles  Portal,  and  it  was  he,  as  agent  of  the  CCS, 
who  directed  it  for  the  rest  of  1943. 

The  Casablanca  conference  did  much  to  clear  the  strategic  atmos- 
phere, especially  in  regard  to  the  use  of  air  power.  It  was  thereafter 
possible  for  Allied  strategists  to  plan  with  new  assurance  and  to  think 
with  new  clarity.  But  the  work  of  the  conference  was  done  on  the  level 
of  general  policy;  although  it  laid  down  guiding  principles,  it  did  not 
entertain  specific  plans.  Even  the  directive  for  the  bomber  offensive 
provided  only  a  general  indication  of  policy  and  its  target  priority  list 
gave  only  tentative  direction.^^^  It  became  the  task  of  the  succeeding 
months,  culminating  in  the  TRIDENT  conference  of  May  1943,  to 
translate  the  Casablanca  decisions  into  terms  of  specific  commitments 
and  detailed  objectives. 


307 


CHAPTER  10 


OVER  GERMANY 

A  LTHOUGH  the  Casablanca  directive  clearly  stated  the  mission 
/\  of  the  combined  bomber  force  and  provided  for  it  a  tenta- 
X  Jl  rive  list  of  priority  target  systems,  the  Combined  Bomber 
Offensive  (CBO)  is  not  customarily  dated  from  21  January  1943. 
Rather  it  is  considered  to  have  begun  with  the  directive  of  10  June 
1943,  issued  after  detailed  plans  had  matured  and  the  American  force 
had  been  substantially  augmented.  Between  those  dates,  Eighth  Air 
Force  operations  continued  to  be  essentially  experimental.  The  Ameri- 
can bombers  were  engaged  in  extending  the  scope  of  their  effort  into 
Germany  proper,  in  feeling  out  the  quality  of  German  opposition,  it- 
self desperately  experimental,  and  in  adjusting  their  tactics  and  tech- 
niques to  the  broader  plan  and  increased  scale  of  the  daylight  oper- 
ations projected  by  the  Combined  Chiefs  of  Staff.  It  is  this  progressive 
mastery  oif  the  problems  of  strategic  bombardment  over  Germany  that 
characterizes  this  new  phase  of  Eighth  Air  Force  activity  more  than  the 
weight  or  even  the  effectiveness  of  the  operations  themselves. 

The  fact  was  that  the  strength  in  effective  aircraft  did  not  increase 
so  rapidly  as  had  been  hoped.  Allied  air  strategists  understood  that,  in 
order  to  put  the  proposed  combined  offensive  into  effect,  it  would  be 
necessary  to  have  a  sufficient  force  ready  to  strike  enemy  installations 
as  soon  a